school supplies in front of chalkboard and globe

Getting ready for the kids to go back to school? This can be a stressful time for eco-minded parents and students. Just looking over the school supply list gives me the shakes! Hand sanitizer, baggies, paper towels, tissues, wipes, waste, waste, and more wasteful items that teachers are asking for. There are legitimate reasons for many of these items, but for a parent who doesn’t use hand sanitizer or bleach wipes at home, this can lead to a little anxiety.

How can we as parents help make changes so that schools are just as safe and clean as our homes without nasty chemicals and waste?

Girls headed Back to School
Image courtesy of Angelia Sims.

While you may not be able to change everything at the beginning of the school year, there are some simple ways to help your school “go green!” Here they are.

1. School Supplies

If you’re already established in a school and know the administrators, you can talk with them about their school supply lists and make recommendations for eco-friendly supplies. Share with them some of the “simple” changes they can make. Do they “really” need thousands of baggies in the classroom? Or will reusable bags and containers work just as well? Otherwise, start with your own child’s list and make greener choices.

  • Reuse any folders, binders, pencil boxes, and supplies that are still in good condition from previous years. We keep most of our crayons and colored pencils and will continue to use them until they need to be replaced.
  • Select the “greener” hand sanitizers and classroom wipes for your child. Encourage your child to wash their hands whenever possible instead of using the hand sanitizer at school.

Talk to your child about making “greener” choices and I’m sure they’ll surprise you.

2. Be a Partner

In order to see change, you may need to step in and volunteer your time. Schools, administrators, and teachers are already working at home and not getting paid for it. They don’t receive extra funding and hours to address every family’s requests. This is where you come in.

  • Join the PTA/PTO or other parent volunteer organization.
  • Present your concerns to the board and other parents, form a “green” committee, and decide which concerns can be addressed.

Being actively involved with your child’s school will also allow you to see some of the green initiatives that may already be in place.

Back to School
Image courtesy of Phil Roeder.

3. Involve the Students

Ask the students which changes and causes they think are important. Form an Earth Club after school and let the kids be responsible for starting up and managing some of the environmental programs like recycling or keeping their campus clean from litter. Help them organize eco-fairs, fundraisers, or fun events to involve the entire school.

Important Environmental Dates

4. Research School Grants

You may be surprised at how many grants are available to schools and organizations that put in a little effort. There are grants for creating school gardens, for making healthier food choices, and for recycling. Share these grants with the administration and teachers in the school that those grants may help and offer to help where needed.

5. Fundraisers

Did you know that there are eco-friendly fundraisers? Programs like TerraCycle allow anyone to earn money for schools by recycling juice pouches, writing instruments, and other waste. Scentco (which makes Smencils, eco-friendly pencils that kids love to smell) offers fundraising programs to schools. Fundraising during coronavirus? Check out these ideas for distanced fundraisers from PTO Today.

Remember: Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Some changes are easy and quick to implement, while others may take a while. Once you start to get other parents, students, and teachers involved, you may be surprised at how many like-minded individuals there are at your school. Be sure to take pictures of participants and document their accomplishments in the student yearbook. It will give them an incentive to keep up the good work!

Editor’s note: Originally published on August 20, 2015, this article was updated in March 2021.

By Calley Pate

A self-described eco-junkie, Calley Pate is the owner and editor of The Eco Chic blog covering eco-friendly living, cloth diapers, parenting, photography, and life in general. Her passion growing up was the arts and the ocean. After working as an environmental contractor, Calley took the leap into blogging full time in 2011. Calley is also Marketing & Social Media Manager for Kelly’s Closet cloth diaper retailer.