Though it feels more like a tropical rainforest than Toronto in September, the infamous “Back To School” season is upon us. Whether you are a student yourself, have school-age kids, or haven’t been to a class in decades, September feels like a time to get serious.

Unless you unplug and hide in a cave, you will be bombarded with back-to-school ads. These ads demand you get the latest, greatest, biggest, best of everything … even things that don’t seem remotely connected to school.

Extrememly odd choice of "back-to-school" sale essentials. image credit:
Extrememly odd choice of “back-to-school” sale essentials.
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Say you want to be prepared, but don’t want to sacrifice a truckload of carbon … what do you do?

A: Buy everything! Especially that 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! scrapbooks!).

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. Photograph the finished Bento Box and post it to Instagram.” (thank you for the description, Victoria Fedden)

Cinderalla, carefully rendered with organic veggies and ham image credit: Victoria Fedden
Cinderalla, carefully rendered with organic veggies and ham
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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. The BPA-free, cruelty-free and child-labour-free thing is a good idea.

Chances are if you 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 hard … so hard you may ask yourself if it’s sustainable?

If you said C, sit back, relax, you’re on a good path. You understand the order and significance of the 3R’s (and the 7R’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 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 easily afford the local, organic strawberries). The city has Community Environment Days and UHN staff have a message board and Virtual Swap Room for the trash-to-treasure effect.

Community Environment Day Poster

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 packaged? Is it Energy Star or otherwise environmentally certified? Does it take people, planet and profits into consideration for a healthy triple-bottom line? If so, cha-ching away.

Triple Bottom Line image credit:
Triple Bottom Line, the key to sustainability
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That’s an A+ for everyone.


Modified from the original post, Sep 3, 2014