Six ways to make your back-to-school shop more eco-friendly

26 Aug 2021
4 min read

Get your kids ready for school in a greener way.

The new school term is just around the corner, and with many children heading back to classrooms after a long period of disruption due to COVID-19, the back-to-school shop might look a bit different this year. Pencil cases have been misplaced, uniforms have been outgrown and packed lunches seem like a distant memory.

You’re likely faced with a shopping list as long as your arm – and a lot of it is non-negotiable: kids need this stuff. But making a few mindful choices about what you buy will go a long way in mitigating the impact this stuff has on the planet. And it won’t cost you any extra, either.

1.  Make a list

The back-to-school shop can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve got the kids in tow and there are signs and promotions everywhere for items you hadn’t even considered. So before you go, make a list of the must-buys and try to stick to it. Better yet, investigate whether your child’s school has a suggested shopping list. Some things, like scientific calculators, for example, may be provided for them.

2.  Choose a sustainable school uniform

Children grow frightening quickly and might not even make it through a single school year without needing a new uniform. Thankfully, there are loads of websites geared towards high quality, preloved uniform pieces in great condition, which will help you save money and limit the amount of energy and resources needed to manufacture brand new stuff. Try, or Or check out local swap and share groups on Facebook or ask friends with older children who will gladly pass on unwanted clothes.

If you need to buy new, however, go for items made from sustainable and ethically-sourced materials, which are often better quality and more durable than the cheaper mass-produced options available in supermarkets. Eco Outfitters has a good range.  Many high street brands are also working hard to use recycled and organic materials in their uniforms.

3.  Take an inventory of school supplies

Before you fill up the trolley with packs of pens, ring binders and post-it notes, do a sweep around the house – you’ll have more of this stuff lying around than you realise. Then once you’ve figured out what you do need to buy, you can make sustainable choices. Choose recycled paper and notebooks with the FSC logo, refillable pens and plastic-free pencil cases.

4.  Ditch the plastic backpack

Most rucksacks aimed at school-age kids are cheap, flimsy and full of non-recyclable materials. If your child’s backpack needs replacing, go for a sturdy, durable bag that will go the distance. Frugi makes bright, cheerful backpacks for little ones that are made from recycled polyester and post-consumer recycled plastic bottles, while Onya’s smart rucksack is made from 10 plastic bottles, is completely recyclable, and comes with all sorts of useful features, such as a headphone porthole and the ability to scrunch down into a keyring-sized pouch when not in use. Or if you’re looking for something that will last for years to come, consider a backpack from Patagonia. These responsibly-made performance packs come with an ironclad lifetime guarantee, and 1% of every purchase with the company goes to environmental causes.

5.  Investigate refurbished technology

If your child needs a computer or laptop, remember that they’ll only really need it for exploring the internet, typing up homework and – COVID situation dependent – making video calls. They definitely don’t need the latest hyped-up, feature-laden device. As such, look at refurbished models. These are slightly older or second hand models, but they’ve gone through rigorous quality checks and usually come with a long warranty – and they’re always cheaper than buying brand new. has a good selection, although most electronics stores will have a refurbished range on offer.

6.  Pack a waste-free lunch

Forget flimsy plastic lunchboxes, choose one that’s made from durable, ethically-sourced and recyclable materials. This lightweight one from Bambuu comes with a bamboo lid and stainless steel casing, so it’s attractive enough to become a useful storage container once your child is finished with it. Ditch the cling film in favour of beeswax wraps and reusable tubs, and bypass the single-serve snack packs at the supermarket. They might be convenient but they’re hugely wasteful. Instead, buy in bulk and decant at home – it’ll save you money, too.

The bottom line

Getting the kids back to school can be an expensive and stressful process, but making sustainable choices doesn’t have to add to the drama. In fact, opting for good quality, durable items that will go the distance could even lighten the load of next year’s shopping trip, and save you some cash in the long run, too. With one billion children at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of the climate crisis according to UNICEF, everything we can do to cut carbon pollution is worth it.



The information in this article was correct at the time of writing and is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.

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