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GREEN TIP: Green this year’s back-to-school shopping by reusing last year’s supplies, buying items that contain recycled materials and packing a waste-free lunch.

According to National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2012 Back-to-School spending survey conducted by BIGinsight, the families with children in grades K-12 will spend an average of $688.62 for school supplies. College students and their families will spend an average of $907.22 on everything from dorm furniture and collegiate gear to school supplies and personal care items. Total combined K-12 and college spending is expected to reach around $84 billion this year.

Here are some ways to make your back-to-school shopping a little greener while helping you to be below average when it comes to your spending this year:

  • Reuse last year’s supplies. Go through the school supplies you already have at home before you hit the stores. Chances are, there are items that you can reuse. Backpacks, lunch boxes, magnets, locks and so on.
  • And while you’re going through your home stash of supplies, don’t throw away unwanted items, gather up extra pens, pencils, rubber bands, paper clips and the like for donation to a local elementary school or to nonprofit organizations that accept school supplies.
  • If there are supplies you have to buy new, make sure the items is made with recycled materials, including paper, backpacks and pencils, etc. Look for pens and pencils made with sustainably harvested wood or recycled content.
  • Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) plastic school supplies. PVC is unique among plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives. These harmful chemicals include phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to your child’s health. Look for PVC-free lunch boxes, binders, backpacks and other school supplies. Download the Center for Health, Environment & Justice’s (CHEJ) Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies.
  • Pack a waste-free lunch. Here are some tips from our friends at Litter Free Lunch:
    • Replace brown paper bags with a reusable lunch box or bag (remember to avoid PVC lunch boxes).
    • Swear off plastic bags and use stainless steel food containers.
    • Switch from disposable paper napkins to reusable cloth napkins.
    • Give up the habit of disposable water bottles and replace it with a reusable stainless steel water bottle. If you buy a plastic reusable bottle, make sure it’s BPA-free. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a hormone-disrupting chemical that can impact health at even very low exposures.
    • Skip disposable plastic cutlery and pack a reusable spoons or forks.
    • Save money by avoiding individually wrapped or packaged items like yogurt, cheese, cookies or crackers. Buy larger sizes and pack portions in reusable containers.
  • Organic apples, oranges, bananas and other fruits are healthy additions to any lunch and they come in their own compostable wrapping.
  • Create a weekly meal plan in advance so you can get everything you need in one trip, this will save time, gas money and reduce your carbon footprint. Also, keep a running list of needed items on the fridge, which will help you stay organized to avoid multiple, last-minute car trips.
  • Explore options to safely bike and walk to school or find a classmate willing to carpool.
  • Check thrift stores for reusable school supplies like binders and backpack and back-to-school clothes, giving good-quality, one-of-a-kind fashions a second life.
My Green Side’s web pick of the week:
The Center for Health, Environment & Justice is an organization that provides assistance to grassroots community groups in the environmental health and justice movement. The Center was founded in 1981 by Lois Gibbs, who helped win the relocation of over 900 families from their neighborhood which was contaminated by chemicals leaking from the Love Canal landfill in Niagara Falls, NY. Through this effort, people began to recognize the link between people’s exposures to dangerous chemicals in their community and serious public health impacts.

Visit their blog for insightful conversations about environmental health and justice at http://chej.org/backyard-talk/ and make sure to download the Center’s Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies.

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Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher Gabriel Program. We also highlight a favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately 1220pm (central) every Wednesday at WDAY.com or, if you’re in North Dakota or western Minnesota, listen on your radio at AM970 WDAY.

GREEN TIP: Surprise your sweetie with an experience, PVC-free gift certificate or organic flowers this Valentine’s Day. Really show your love this year with a gift that says you care about the long-term impact of your actions.

Too often we buy things just to buy things on “holidays” like Valentine’s Day. If you feel like giving your sweetie something meaningful this year, I have some suggestions:


  • Any busy person would appreciate a handmade certificate (on recycled paper) for a homemade dinner, doing laundry for a week (hint, hint) or any other task you know would be a delight to have done by someone else.
  • Dinner and a movie. Either take your sweetie out or have a theme dinner and a movie at home.
  • Plan a trip to an art gallery or museum.
  • Get creative. You know your loved one better than anyone so really make the day special.


  • A gift certificate for an experience like a trip to a local spa or restaurant. Most local (non-chain) stores and restaurant still use paper gift certificates instead of plastic cards made from PVC.

The folks at GiftZip.com have a wonderful tip. The next time you’re purchasing a gift card go for the electronic (and paperless) option, an eGift card. Each year, 75 million pounds of PVC is dumped into landfills from plastic gift card waste (Plenty Magazine). That’s an astronomical amount of waste for something that can easily and conveniently be sent virtually. We’ve talked about PVC before. PVC is notoriously difficult to recycle and cannot be tossed into the recycling bin along side your other household items. You must send those pesky plastic cards to a PVC recycling plant, the only one I know of is EarthWorks. For a directory of retailers that offer an eGift card, go to GiftZip.com.


Organic flowers, organic chocolate and even organic baked goods. Thanks to my friend Melissa Hincha-Ownby, I discovered OrganicBouquet.com.

Organic Bouquet offers sustainably grown flowers fresh from their partner farms. They promote and live up to the highest social and environmental standards—developing the most eco-friendly floral packaging, initiating the industry’s first carbon offset program, and growing their flowers in a way that is gentle on the earth and that safeguards the ecology and the well-being of wildlife and farm workers.

Why organic flowers?

More than 400,000 boxes of flowers are shipped from Ecuador to the United States in the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Workers in Ecuador and Colombia, usually women, labor from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. during this time of year. Most do not work again until Mother’s Day approaches.

They work around 100 varieties of pesticides, many outlawed in America, without protection.

The story is the same in Thailand, Malaysia and Zambia – anywhere February isn’t frozen over and poor people are willing to work for pennies.

Source: Environmental Working Group


Make sure your jewelry is purchased from a sustainable source. Companies like Ruff & Cut offer socially responsible luxury, which means gorgeous jewelry, sustainable and humane mining practices and recycled metals.

Do you have any other ideas for greening someone’s Valentine’s Day?

My Green Side’s weekly web pick:

Trees Instead
Trees Instead
offers an awesome way to tell your Valentine you love them. Make your Valentine gift sustainable and dedicate a tree to honor your sweetie. You can have one tree planted, half or even a full acre of trees planted in any US State, Canada, Africa and Israel.

As our love grows, so will the tree.

Portions of this article were originally published January 13, 2010 at MyGreenSide.org.

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by Wendy Gabriel

GREEN TIP: When you go shopping for back-to-school supplies, WDAY Green Tipsbuy recycled products whenever possible.

Last week we talked about avoiding school supplies that are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). Hopefully everyone is now armed with their own Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies created by The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). This week we are taking it a step further. As you prepare for this year’s back-to-school shopping for your child’s supplies avoid PVC and look for recycled products.

According to myhealthyschool.com, more than 75 million students are enrolled in the U.S. education system, and if each child used just one recycled item every school year, that would mean 75 million fewer pieces of garbage deposited in our landfills.

There are recycled, eco-friendly versions of nearly every classroom supply.

Pens (try Pilot Be Green or Zebra brands, both available at Staples, Office Max and Office Depot)

Pencils (try Zebra brand, available at Staples, Office Max and Office Depot, or Paper Mate Earthwrite brand, available at Office Max and Office Depot)

Highlighters (try Zebra brand, available at Staples, Office Max and Office Depot)

Folders in assorted colors (try the Office Depot brand or the Essette brand, available at Kmart)

Subject notebooks in assorted colors (try the Staples brand or College Rule brand, available at Target)

Manila file folders (try Essette brand, available at Office Depot and Kmart)

Box of tissues (try Marcal brand, available at Staples and Office Depot, as well as grocery stores)

Remember using even one recycled product this school year can have a huge impact on our earth.

Source: myhealthyschool.com

This could even extend to back-to-school clothes shopping. Considering buying “recycled” clothing. Shop at a resale clothing store for some of your back-to-school clothes.

Once Upon A Child
Plato’s Closet
City of Fargo, Area Thrift Stores

My Green Side’s weekly web pick:

MyHealthySchool.com provides teachers, administrators and parents with action plans for creating greener, healthier, more socially responsible schools and children.

Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher Gabriel Program. We also highlight a different favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately 1020am (CDT) every Wednesday at WDAY.com.

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