6 ways to escape the back-to-school shopping craze

school supplies
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Who says you have to hit the mall? Here are some greener and cheaper alternatives.

My kids came home from school in June with a full-page list of recommended student supplies for the following year. Every imaginable craft supply was on the list, as well as headphones, a calculator, geometry set, and French-English dictionary. While I can’t help wondering where my sky-high Canadian taxes go if I’m having to provide these classroom basics, there’s another part of me that recoils at the assumed consumerism that accompanies the start of a new school year. What if I don’t want to spend a pile of money on cheaply made crap at the dollar store? And yet, kids still need to be able to do things in the classroom.

The Story of Stuff has compiled a sensible list of back-to-school shopping alternatives that I’d like to share. It’s a good reminder of how there are often different ways of doing things, as long as we’re willing to think creatively and outside the box store, so to speak.

1. Look on an online swap site. Visit Varage Sale, which has chapters across the United States and Canada. You might be able to find excess school supplies being sold at reduced prices. Yerdle, Freecycle, Craigslist, eBay, and your local Buy Nothing Group are good resources.

2. Visit the local thrift store. You can often find office and craft supplies here, and you can’t beat the prices. Even Amazon can be a decent source for used office supplies.

3. See if your school can host a swap. Some parents buy a ton of extra supplies and would happily swap or sell to others, just to declutter the house. You may also get calculators and math sets that older students no longer need. This helps families who struggle to afford new supplies. Alternatively, organize something among your own friend group using Facebook.

4. Buy refurbished technology. If an older kid needs a laptop for high school, visit your local computer store to see what deals can be had. Story of the Stuff writes, “Buying a refurbished unit lowers the demand for tungsten and other precious elements, lessens the amount of electronic waste and is easier on the budget.”

5. Buy green. If you must go shopping for new items, choose paper made from 100 percent recycled content. Stick with wooden pencils that will biodegrade, instead of the plastic-sheathed ones that are impossible to recycle. An older student could perhaps be trusted with a refillable fountain pen. PaperMate’s ballpoint pen is made from 42 percent recycled material – not great, but better than nothing. Check out our slideshow of 10 ethically made, eco-friendly backpacks.

6. Stay away from the dollar store. Cheap stuff is tempting, but it comes at a cost to someone, somewhere on Earth. According to Story of stuff, super low-cost goods “can contain harmful chemicals such as lead, phthalates and PVC. Backpacks can be sneaky culprits when they are made of vinyl. Cheap backpacks tend to break and wear out faster, adding to the waste since they have to be replaced more often and can’t be passed down to someone else. Low-quality pencils grind up in the sharpeners faster and cheap crayons color poorly, causing them to shrink faster and break more easily.”

6 ways to escape the back-to-school shopping craze
Who says you have to hit the mall? Here are some greener and cheaper alternatives.

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