Back to School Eco-shopping Guide: Live Green to Save More Green

Back to School Eco Shopping Guide

By Karen Langston

If you have children, it’s coming. If it hasn’t yet, it’s on the way. The dreaded back-to-school supply list. I know I used to dread it. Back-to-school shopping is as torturous as watching gum melt on a Scottsdale street in August.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2018 survey on projected spending, families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $684.79 per household. Just over $122 will be spent on supplies for the classroom. The question is, how can we reduce, reuse and recycle and save a little green?

Take Inventory

I too was swept up in the “have to have everything new” craze. I got wise by third grade after I realized it was ludicrous to keep buying new when I had large baggies of perfectly useable supplies. Enough was enough. From there on, before purchasing anything, we would take inventory.

Backpack first. If it was in good condition and survived a washing, it was used again. We would spruce it up with iron-on decals or fabric paints. Next up was gathering last year’s school supplies, long abandoned for summer fun, and sharpening and testing them. Some were good as new. If we needed something we did not have, it was off to do some eco-shopping first. Here in Arizona, good eco-shopping adventures can be found at Goodwill, Savers and Hidden Treasures Thrift Store.

Where to Find Supplies

Despite your best efforts, if you just cannot find what you need, grab an organic cup of coffee and scroll online through The Ultimate Green Store for all your kids’ needs, from recycled newspaper and tree-free pencils, colored pencils, soybean biodegradable crayons, banana paper recycled notebooks, and so much more—including eco-friendly laptop bags for older students.

In fact, The Ultimate Green Store may also be the perfect website for college dorm shopping too!

School Lunches? No problem

School lunches do not have to be a nightmare. My daughter loved hot lunches, so I purchased two stainless steel small Thermos bottles; 20 years later we are still using them.

Eventually we did have to replace her one featuring The Little Mermaid with a more age-appropriate lunch box, but that was inevitable.

Back then, sustainability was not as predominant. Today we have tons of options for kids of all ages. ECOlunchbox specializes in plastic-free food containers and non-toxic silicone lids designed to reduce dependence on plastics for health and the environment. 

For super cool sustainable and useful lunch bags, check out Life Without Plastic, lunch bags made from 100% organic cotton canvas, insulated with wool, which has a removal cotton lining for laundering. 

PlanetBox has colorful lunch bags certified safe from lead, phthalates, BPA, and other harmful chemicals. The company also has all-in-one stainless steel lunch box food compartments for picky eaters. This option is also perfect for the college student who is eating on campus, instead of them taking Styrofoam and plastic.


Back-to-school clothing has got to be one of the biggest expenses. Here is a great tip—continue using summer clothing and maybe a sweater for cooler mornings. As the weather changes, this signals the time for eco-clothing shopping. Why not try some of the consignment shops in addition to the retailers mentioned above?

For younger children, stop in and browse Other Mothers, AZKidsnMore and Love Child Resale.

For teens to college students, Cream Of The Crop, Buffalo Exchange, High Society Resale Boutique, My Sister’s Closet and Name Brand Exchange carry the latest trends within the last six months. Before you go, be sure to go through your family’s clothing and make a little green to use while eco-shopping.

What about uniforms? How about setting up an exchange with parents for swapping uniforms? Or, request your child’s school or PTA start a uniform swap or sale.

It would be less expensive to purchase gently used uniforms, as well as less of an environmental impact.

If you must get new, ask your uniform store owner the sustainability of the clothes they are selling. If this leaves you feeling a little icky, try Lands End Inc., a company that subscribes to the Global Compliance Program to ensure suppliers and its subsidiaries avoid using child labor or slave labor, and are compliant against violating any local environmental regulations.

This year when you get your child’s back-to-school supply list, start by shopping in your own home. What can you reuse to reduce the environmental impact?

Then try eco-shopping at boutiques, consignment and secondhand shops, which support your community.

Finally, when you have to purchase new, look for recycled upcycled, sustainable products and clothing. Reduce your footprint and live green and save more green.

Karen Langston is a certified holistic nutritionist working with clients and professionals on how to have three healthy poops a day. Poop well, be well.

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1 Comment
  1. Love this, great article and reminders! Thank you for all the on-line links Karen. I also went to Kid-2-Kid when I lived in AZ.

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