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Five #CleanCouponing Back-to-School Tips for Parents & Students

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Who’s ready for back-to-school time?

You’ve settled into a summer routine, or maybe completely unstructured days of bliss.  You’ve spent long hours at the pool.  You let the kids sleep in late.  You’ve celebrated the fireflies, the family visits, the outings to the zoo, and all that you can wrap into a couple of months and then some!

Now, the calendar is looming, and your family is scrambling to reset the household clock, reprioritizing, and digging out the dreaded school supply lists.  You discover that one child has managed to jump 2 shoe sizes in one short summer.

Here are 5 #CleanCouponing Back-to-School Tips for Families with Students

Shop at Home First

It’s easy to get drawn into the back-to-school shopping frenzy for supplies.  Yet, one clean sweep of my kids’ rooms can turn up enough supplies to run an entire classroom, can’t yours? Do they honestly need a new plastic ruler or a new pair of kid-sized scissors every single year?  Does that uber-expensive backpack deserve to go into retirement yet, or could you clean it up and make it last?  If you homeschool, you have more flexibility with things like notebook paper that doesn’t have to be in a package to start the new school year.  How many different assortments of markers do they already have?  Public school parents, that plastic pencil box that the teacher insisted your kid buy last year won’t be disintegrating in the landfill anytime this century, so could you maybe try using it again?

Back-to-school clothes are another thing families can shop for at home first.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the big-sibling hand-me-down?  It’s a quick brush-up on math skills to require kids to inventory what they have at home first, what still fits, what doesn’t, and what they can give Little Brother or Sister before heading out to modeling Goodwill clothes for back-to-school

                                                        Shop Secondhand

Secondhand is one of the most frugal ways to go green.  You save money, you often benefit a local charity via its thrift store or sale, and you minimize inputs for an item you need.  We showed you previously how little you have to spend for an outfit via a thrift store. As my kids get older and bit more style and label savvy, I try to find the most upscale consignment shops for them to explore. During our one and only back-to-school shopping trip for clothes, they each found items in some name brands they like for a fraction of the retail price.  They loved what they found so well that they’re already planning potential first-day-of-school outfits, without setting foot yet in the mall.

Need a big-kid desk or new bookshelf for your growing student?  These are ideal items to buy secondhand, especially if you can find solid wood.

Try Greener Options for Old Standards

Here’s where teachers and schools might need a little nudge to go greener with you.  For instance, did you know that leading conventional brands that promote everything from toxic cleaners to fast food offer kickbacks for classrooms?  That’s why you see the seemingly innocuous requests for and mentions of certain brands in school supply lists and school newsletters.  It’s easy to see why teachers find this hard to pass up, even if this strategy is not about healthier, greener school initiatives.  Don’t be fooled by this.  Instead, feel free to ask your child’s teacher if another, greener brand, would be a reasonable substitute.  Better yet, send her a sample so she can see for herself how much better it is.

My youngest daughter has had airway reactions when she was younger to both bleach and popular disinfectant wipes filled with ammonium quaternary compounds, so we choose not to use either those, nor unnecessary synthetic fragrances around her. Every time I see the request for disinfectant wipes, I ignore the stated brand and send the teacher non-toxic Seventh Generation wipes instead.  One teacher really loved the Cleaning is a Breeze by Zoeganics I sent in that she could safely use around students when she needed to clean surfaces. I’ve done the same with requests for hand soap or sanitizer, opting for products without harmful triclosan or synthetic fragrance that could contain phthalates.

Many parents are also countering the old standard of using candy as rewards in schools by either sending candy without questionable coal-tar derived food dyes or by insisting that candy not be used as a reward. Either way, it’s a step in the right direction.  Nonprofit Healthy Child, Healthy World provides a resource of information to help parents advocate for healthier schools and daycares.  Be aware that if you see the Safer Choice label on products via the Environmental Protection Agency, this is little more than a rebranding of the old Design for the Environment label that still does not meet the most stringent environmental health concerns you might have.  One of the better aspects of the relabeling is that you can now find a Fragrance Free version of some Safer Choice products, showing that more and more consumers don’t want the risks of unnecessary synthetic fragrance around their families.

Back to School kid legs and shoes

Go for Quality vs the Unknown

Believe it or not, even though asbestos is so deadly that it claims thousands of American lives each year, it is still legal in commerce and has been recently found, again, in children’s crayons!  That’s what the Environmental Working Group found in recently commissioned laboratory studies.  That, plus the dismal record of dollar store items like vinyl plastics, as noted in this lab report by nonprofit Healthy Stuff, give you good reason to think twice before simply saving a dollar on school supplies. This is a good reason to perhaps go for name brands that provide some level of accountability, perhaps made-in-America items. Concerns about asbestos in crayons go back at least as far as the year 2000, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission even found trace amounts in top-selling brands, when leading companies said they agreed to reformulate to avoid this happening again.

Choosing made-in-USA products, using more transparent companies that reveal how they make products, looking for third-party certifications, and mostly going for name brands or leading green brands can be a way to put quality first with school supplies.   Look for fragrance free or low odor in markers. Avoiding PVC vinyl in notebooks and backpacks can be another easy switch to better quality.  Even something as basic as rain coats and boots can be a health hazard, if you don’t go for quality.

Encourage Local Schools & Be Patient

You can encourage your local school in various ways to make greener, healthier choices for students. Third-party resources like this information kit from can be helpful, or tips from the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition.  The EPA has had Tools for Schools in place for some time now. PTO Today suggests simple approaches to things like healthier eating in schools. Since renovation and purchasing decisions tend to be made months or years in advance, it may take some time to instill newer, science-based, health-based habits into your local school system.  As Healthy Schools points out, yesterday’s green-building practices did not necessarily take healthy air quality into full account.

pile of books with one book open on empty green  school board background

Join the next #CleanCouponing chat on Thursday, July 23, at 9 pm Eastern when @CleanCouponing and @FlourSackMama would love to hear your back-to-school strategies that work!  Also follow guest panelists @Mike_Schade who is Mind the Store campaign director for @SaferChemicals@Langford_Mom who can speak to homeschooling, mom Tamara at @LeadSafeAmerica, Spit That Out author @PaigeWolf, former Kindergarten teacher @IrishRed02 and @CleanAirMoms_TN!

Please help me spread the word by copying and tweeting this:

Join me for Back-to-School chat with & Thurs, July 23, 9 pm ET!

Let’s share and encourage one another to make this a thoughtful back-to-school time.  Let me know in the comments which other back-to-school topics you’d like to see covered here.

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4 Responses to Five #CleanCouponing Back-to-School Tips for Parents & Students

  1. Lindsay July 21, 2015 at 3:35 pm #

    I love the idea of shopping at home. I don’t have kids but I could certainly do that with my clothes and accessories etc. I also love to buy most of my clothes second hand. Being in LA there are lots of great second hand clothing stores with discounted and quality outfits. Great info and resources as always Anne!
    Lindsay recently posted…Green dry cleaning: How to know it’s actually saferMy Profile

    • FlourSackMama July 22, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

      OOh, LA would be a fun secondhand shopping trip with the girls someday…

  2. Anna @Green Talk July 21, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

    What a great article. I am glad you made parents aware of the crayon issue. That one really took me by surprise.
    Anna @Green Talk recently posted…How to Identify and Remove Squash Vine Borer WormMy Profile

    • FlourSackMama July 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

      Yes, me too. I cringe to think of the all of the free donation drives going on now that could include the asbestos-laced crayons.

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