Whether you have little ones lining up for the yellow bus, are a student yourself, or haven’t been to a class in decades, September feels like teachers/pencils/books time. As a universal truth, you will be bombarded with back-to-school ads (just try to ignore dreaded ear-worm from a certain office supplies store: “‌it’s the Most, Wonderful Time of the Year“). These ads demand you get the latest, greatest, biggest, best of everything … even things that don’t seem remotely connected to school.

Back to school (2)

Say you want to be prepared, but don’t want to sacrifice a truckload of carbon to get Sophie, Ethan and Arya set up for straight A’s … what do you do?

A: Buy everything that looks ‘back-to-school-ish’ including the bulk set of glitter glue sticks! … it’s only a buck a piece once you get 48 of ’em! (cuz you need 48 glue sticks … crafting! projects! crafting projects!).

B: Order individually monogrammed “BPA-free bento boxes and authentic Indian tiffins made with special stainless steel that did not involve any child-labor, sweat shops or animal cruelty … Fill containers with organic, local strawberries intricately cut into the shapes of sea creatures … Make a sandwich on vegan hemp bread out of tahini, kale and jicama. Form it into the shape of your child’s favorite Disney character. Make flowers out of non-dairy cheese slices, olives and seaweed. Photograph the finished Bento Box and post it to Instagram.” (thank you, Victoria Fedden)

C: Make a list of what you need. Look in your closets and drawers to see what you already have. Gather the things you don’t need any more. Swap, sell and buy carefully to fill out your list.

Chances are that if you choose to read Talkin’ Trash in the first place, you did not say A. If you said A, we got a lotta esplainin’ to do.

If you said B, bless you for trying really, really, really hard … so hard, one might ask if it’s sustainable? Or will you crack and find yourself gorging on an industrial sized jar of spreadable-cheez-sludge in one plastic-y, gooey, nuclear-orange sitting? It happens.

If you said C, sit back, relax, you’re on the right track (just don’t be too smug about it :). You understand the order and significance of the 3R’s. “Reduce” is first for a reason…we get the biggest bang for our eco-buck when we avoid getting stuff we don’t need. That lovely second R, “Reuse”, is a great way to acquire the things we do. There are so many places to swap and sell your retired stuff for someone else’s, and second-hand shops that will save you a bundle (so you can buy the local, organic strawberries). We even have a Virtual Swap Room at UHN so departments get the trash-to-treasure effect.

image credit: inhabit.com
image credit: inhabit.com

And if you do need to buy a few things, it’s not the end of the world. By thinking before buying, you can really put your money where your mouth is. Before wielding the credit card, ask yourself: is it durable? useful? reusable? recyclable? less toxic? less packaging? Is it Energy Star or otherwise environmentally certified? If it is, bring the cha-ching.

Don’t forget a shiny, local, organic apple for the teacher.


P.S. Want to dig deeper? Check out great articles on Grist, Treehugger, and David Suzuki. Even better, share your favourite ideas in the comments section.