Back to School Sustainably
So, only last week we were writing about what to do during the summer holidays, but now we have turned our attention to the new school year.
Are you counting down the days till the schools re-open? Are your children equally excited at the thought of going back to the classroom for the first time in almost five months?
Even those of us without children at school are perhaps feeling that it is only when the schools re-open that the community will feel that we are getting back to something more normal.
Some of our best days have been when we have gone in to schools to talk to the children about how they can reduce their individual carbon footprint and that of their school.
By and large, children really get it. You can almost see them thinking, "Why would you do it any other way?" Teachers we meet are doing a great job equipping our youngsters to make good environmental choices throughout their lives.
We were quite taken with "The Cost of the School Day", a report published in September 2018. It led to the Cost of the School Day programme that now supports schools to identify and overcome barriers that children from low income families face in terms of the costs associated with engagement at school.
And, of course, while the report was looking at the financial costs, its arguments are essentially the same when looking at the environmental costs.
The report found that school uniforms can present a significant cost to families and, although a uniform minimises visible differences, strict dress code enforcement embarrasses young people and quickly replacing items of uniform can be difficult if parents don't have immediate access to funds.
As usual, as we near the end of the summer holidays we are bombarded with Back To School promotions, encouraging parents to spend, spend, spend.
And, as usual, we think there is a better way.
Figures vary, but it appears that families regularly spend well over £100 getting their child kitted out for school.
Is this really the best use of our resources? As well as a financial drain on parents, isn't there also a huge environmental impact?
Ideally we would have been promoting school uniform swaps before the summer term ended. Of course, that wasn't possible, but we are certainly talking about it now.
Even if it is too late to do much before school starts this year, could we encourage you to think about it for coming year? We know of schools (and other groups) where these swaps run successfully so if you are a teacher or a parent perhaps you could start one in your school?
One of the schools we visit has a rail of clothing permanently out for parents or children to access, but if space is a problem, why not set up your swap on Facebook?
It will help parents financially as well as leading to a reduction in the amount of wearable clothes heading to landfill. We all know that children's clothes are often out-grown long before they are out-worn and that is particularly true for items of schoolwear.
Let's challenge the UK's culture of always buying new school uniforms. And let's be honest - those new uniforms come home covered in paint, mud or school dinners very quickly so within a few weeks nobody is going to know whose is new and whose is second-hand.
If your school can be persuaded to cut down on unnecessary branding, clothing is instantly given more years of life as items can then be passed on to family and friends attending different schools.
Remember to include things like PE kits, school bags, pencil cases and lunch boxes in your swap.
Which brings us nicely to another part of school life that can be full of waste. They playtime snacks and packed lunches.
Now, of course we are not saying go out and buy new packed lunch boxes. If you have a plastic one in the house keep using it and only when it has to be replaced look for an eco-friendly option. Remember, the most sustainable choice is to buy nothing! Always look around the house and see what you can use.
Options for a greener packed lunch
a re-useable bottle for water or juice
re-useable tubs or beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm
avoid individually wrapped items. Better to buy a packet of biscuits and put one or two in a tub each day, or to bake a cake and pop a slice in each day
similarly, buy one large bag of dried fruit rather than tiny boxes or packets
buy a large family packet of crisps and divide it between children, or over several days, instead of a single crisp packet going into school every day
Finally, if your school uniform includes a blazer (eminently swap-able) has your school considered the eco-blazer? We love them. Ours is made from 16 plastic bottles, used 84% less energy to produce than a regular blazer, yet didn't cost any more. It is about to be worn by the third child and still looks as good as new.