Back to school, but better

Published: 17 January 2023
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two students in green uniforms riding scooters on the sidewalk

Teachers, students and parents across Victoria are preparing to head back to school with super-sized to-do lists and bursting backpacks.

By making smarter choices when it comes to school supplies, uniforms, transport and lunchboxes, we can all contribute to a more sustainable future for the next generation.

Try these tips to help support a greener classroom.

Stationery stocktake

Before making your back-to-school shopping list, check what you already have at home. You might be surprised by how many pens, pencils and paperclips you’ll discover when you start digging around in drawers. If your search unearths any pens or markers past their best, you can recycle them at Officeworks.

For high school English and literature texts, see what’s buried in your bookcase before buying new, or browse free ebooks. You can also search online for ‘second-hand school books’ for other buying and selling options.

Save with second-hand

You’ll not only save money buying items like uniforms, textbooks and technology second-hand. You’re also playing an important part in waste reduction and the circular economy. Many schools have second-hand stores on campus, and you can reach out to family and friends to see if they have anything to offload.

It’s also worth joining your neighbourhood Facebook group and connecting with locals who might be willing to pass along unwanted school gear. Before making a second-hand score, get in touch with teachers to check if there are any important differences between textbook versions that you need to be aware of.

Sustainable school supplies

If you can’t buy pre-owned or second-hand, then search for the most eco-friendly alternatives. Products like notebooks made from recycled paper and pens manufactured from recycled plastic are widely available. You may also find plantable pencils, soy-based crayons, plastic-free pencil sharpeners, and refillable pens and highlighters.

Active transport

Transport is the second-largest source of emissions in Victoria, and road transport like cars are responsible for 87 per cent of this sector’s emissions.

One of the easiest ways you can reduce your impact is by planning ahead and walking or cycling to and from school. As well as saving money and cutting neighbourhood congestion, walking or cycling to school is a great opportunity to consolidate road rules with your children while improving family fitness.

You could also look into the public transport options in your area and see if you can take a bus, tram or train for part or all of your journey.

Lunchboxes with less

reusable orange sandwich container with sandwich on student's lap

Cut down on plastic packaging by switching to beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm or use lunchboxes with built-in compartments that reduce the need for unnecessary wrapping. You can also buy larger size drinks, yoghurts, snacks and biscuits and pack individual serves in a reusable drink bottle or container.

Another way to reduce both packaging and food waste is to use up excess fruit and vegetables in homemade lunchbox snacks like muffins, banana bread and muesli bars, or get creative with sandwich fillings using last night’s leftovers.

Tech tricks

Save money while saving the planet by restoring or repairing your existing laptop or tablet rather than buying new. Or consider purchasing a refurbished model from an authorised reseller. These have usually been tested and can perform just as effectively as their brand-new counterparts. For peace of mind, ensure your refurbishment comes with a warranty.

If your child has outgrown their technology, think about whether you could gift their old devices to a friend or younger student at school, or donate them to a charity. And if your tech is beyond saving, you can take it to your local e-waste drop-off point or Officeworks store so the valuable materials can be recycled into new products.

Get smart

Is your school ResourceSmart? Free for Victorian schools, the ResourceSmart Schools program helps schools to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by embedding sustainability into the curriculum, on campus and in the local community. To learn more, get in touch with our education team by calling 1300 363 744 or emailing schools@sustainability.vic.gov.au.

Nominations for the 2023 ResourceSmart Schools Awards are now open. So, if your school is already ResourceSmart, don’t miss your chance to enter.

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