Photo: Top 10 better back-to-school tips

The Better Back to School Brigade's #1 tip: waste-free lunches! (Credit: via Flickr)

Nothing green about a flurry of purchases made in a frantic dash to fill school supply lists amidst tempting sales and a looming September deadline!

To help us all do better, savvy eco-bloggers and expert parents have joined me for a month-long Better Back to School Brigade — offering tips, resources and amazing giveaways (hint: scroll down to enter).

Here's our community's top 10 tips for setting green back-to-school habits that last all year:

1. Waste-free lunches: Litterless lunches also use more fresh foods and less refined sugar. The first step: the right gear. Check out Adria Vasil's (The Ecoholic) waste-free ways to eat on the go. And enter to win a Better Back To School Brigade waste-free lunch makeover — a giveaway with more than $200 worth from Planet Box, Abeego, Raspberry Kids and Today I Ate a Rainbow.

2. Eat a rainbow: Each colour group of fruits and vegetables is packed with a unique set of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Eat at least five colours a day! Choose organic as much as possible — the EWG's Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen can help you prioritize.

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3. Non-toxic backpack: A recent CHEJ study revealed that many vinyl back‐to‐school supplies — including backpacks — contain elevated levels of phthalates and may also contain lead. Lori Alper (Groovy Green Living) has great non-toxic alternatives.

4. Reduce, reuse and only then recycle: Buy less. Buy used. Buy recycled (or otherwise greener) options. Sources like Craigslist are great for everything from clothing to text books to big ticket items like bikes and desks.

5. Walk to school: 30×30 Nature Challenge followers know that spending time outdoors increases well-being and concentration! Amber Strocel shares other unexpected benefits of walking in her suburban neighbourhood.

6. Establish a good sleep routine two weeks before school starts: That means, um, now! The Green Mom's Collective suggests we reign in summer patterns by making bedtime 15 minutes earlier every few nights. How is this green? Well-rested kids are more likely to get up in time to walk!

7. Kick chemical cleaners: Contact your school's Parent Teacher Association to speak out in favour of safer alternatives. In Green Child magazine, children's environmental health advocate Janelle Sorensen said Green Seal products are approved for a school's unique needs. The Ontario School Board encourages the use of either Green Seal or EcoLogo products.

8. Choose non-toxic cosmetics: If you're detoxifying their lunch box and backpack, make sure to also choose safer nail polish and skin care by avoiding the dirty dozen. (Scroll down to enter a $300 clean cosmetic giveaway courtesy of Sappho.)

9. Choose FSC-certified paper products: It's increasingly simple to find green school supplies, including FSC-certified pencils and paper. Electronic purchases aren't off the hook either. The EnviroDad reminds us to do the research and choose green!

10. Connect with nature: Get back to school. And get back outside. Join the Fall Family Challenge and receive a month of fun, outdoor activities and ideas for exploring nature with your family. Get up-close with aquatic ecosystems, explore biodiversity in your backyard — even sprout some socks! Join now!

Tovah Paglaro, a fellow Queen of Green

August 20, 2013

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Aug 26, 2014
12:45 PM

I would like to know where to buy the backpack he wore on the Rick mercer show/ Mike Holmes show for $ 90.00 approx..

Feb 22, 2014
4:23 PM

My son inspired our family to make our lunches waste free. A study of the ocean in his Kindergarten class was the catalyst for a bunch of changes in our lunchboxes, starting with the elimination of plastic baggies. It was a small change he felt that he could make that resulted in a big difference for our family.

Sep 16, 2013
2:35 PM

We are definitely an eat a rainbow family always aiming for 5-10 servings of veggies a day and a couple of servings of fruit too!

Sep 08, 2013
3:08 PM

When I was a student at school, my mum used to pack lunches and water for us kids everyday. And then I would refill my bottle from the water stations. No waste and I would save so much on lunch money. Not to forget, my friends loved my lunches too and got into the habit as well.

Sep 08, 2013
1:34 PM

Homeschool, and teach your kids about the things that really matter to your family and the environment and let them learn through living, with hands on experiences and meeting people from all walks of life! Encourage them to take part in events and activities that truly make a difference.

Sep 08, 2013
1:24 PM

Great ideas! We’re fortunate to be able to do most of them. The only one I don’t have info on, is my kids’ backpacks. Last year, I think I sent our kids to school with litterless lunches

Sep 07, 2013
4:39 PM

Love this blog! So helpful

Sep 07, 2013
1:13 PM

my kids come home for lunch I am lucky we live close enough and I work at nights to make a wholesome lunch

Sep 07, 2013
5:44 AM

Bento boxes are a great way to portion out the food.

Sep 05, 2013
3:16 PM

so glad my youngest daughter’s teacher has sent home a letter already about litterless lunches. She has a contest going, every month the student that has littered the least gets a 10 dollar gift card to the book store :)

Sep 04, 2013
10:54 AM

Luv these tips!

Sep 04, 2013
10:35 AM

Schools should go more Green and learn Green Technology

Sep 02, 2013
10:00 PM

Just like I cook extra for my husband’s lunch the next day, do the same for kids. Planning ahead gives everyone healthy lunches :)

Sep 02, 2013
5:34 AM

I’m a grade 3 teacher and this year I am starting waste-free lunches in my classroom!

Sep 01, 2013
8:12 AM

Thanks for the tips…

Sep 01, 2013
7:01 AM

I already use stainless steel lunch boxes and water bottles for my 3 kids. I cook once and we eat two times.This year I am going to always try to add in a fresh fruit/veg snack.

Aug 31, 2013
9:50 AM

Thanks for all the tips on making waste-free school lunches as easy as 1-2-3!

Aug 29, 2013
8:55 AM

I love the post about litterless lunches It is so easy to pack a litterless lunch everyday and not add to the landfill. I pledge to make my kids lunches litterless all year long!

Aug 29, 2013
7:09 AM

I am BEYOND thrilled that i spent the money to buy planet boxes for my 3 sons…they wake up every morning so excited to figure out how to fill those spaces…it’s like legos with food! No more yucky school lunches for us this year! Thanks for all these great ideas!

Aug 28, 2013
6:05 PM

Don’t forget to print your child’s name on all reusable containers, they’re more likely to make it home that way. For my son’s primary class, we sent in a counting toy made by writing numbers on 100 lids from frozen concentrated juice cans (they stack well and have no sharp edges). They fit perfectly in a stackable potato chip container for storage.

Aug 28, 2013
5:44 PM

We use refillable water bottles, sandwich containers and silverware. Instead of buying small school milk cartons we fill a thermos at home. We bake muffins in bulk and freeze for recess snacks and use leftovers from supper when possible.

Aug 28, 2013
2:33 PM

Thanks for all the tips!

Aug 28, 2013
10:11 AM

Take a reusable water bottle to school!- helps keep you health and hydrated and saves the impact that plastic bottles have on the environment.

Make homemade shampoos and face scrubs at the beginning of the week/month. They feel great and save you and the environment from chemicals that are clogged in store bought cosmetics!

Aug 28, 2013
9:04 AM

I use the containers my son went to elementary school with to pack my work lunches — and he’s 26!

Aug 27, 2013
2:46 PM

We reuse old wirebound notebooks. We just cut/rip off the used ones. We also prepare lunches the night before. we refill our water bottles instead of using plastic water bottles

Aug 27, 2013
1:32 PM

I send my kids with stainless steel water bottles and we get rid of lice without using the ‘killer’ lice shampoo!

Aug 27, 2013
10:12 AM

Thanks for the link to the list of non-toxic backpacks!

Aug 27, 2013
8:47 AM

Pack your lunches with your kids the night before school. Find ingenious ways to make a no-litter lunch. Then give them a reward of some kind when they bring home their containers and rinse them out, ready to be washed. Done. Easy. And you get a little bonding time.

Aug 27, 2013
6:37 AM

Cook once, eat two or more times! I like to make a big batch of whatever I’m cooking (soup, stew, lasagne, you name it!) and freeze the extra portions in reusable containers. Save energy by cooking once, save time by having ready to go lunches!

Aug 27, 2013
4:33 AM

These are great tips — when we first started making litterless lunches, it seemed like such a bother. But it’s second nature now! Our next project is to get the toxins out of the house!

Aug 27, 2013
3:49 AM

Great ideas thanks!

Aug 27, 2013
2:53 AM

Love the posts!

Aug 27, 2013
1:21 AM

I already use safe, non toxic, reusable lunch ware. I am proud to set that standard and would love to keep learning about more products that supports those choices.

Aug 26, 2013
10:17 PM

Make your own energy bars and granola bars to reduce packaging on your lunch :)

Aug 26, 2013
10:02 PM

I’ve been sending the kids to school with a bento box — cutting down on about 3 plastic sandwich bags a day — plus sending a Klean Kanteen water container. Gotta invest in some cloth napkins for their lunch box though!

Aug 26, 2013
7:21 PM

We never use boxed juices, stainless steel water bottles have been out choice for drinks for the past 10 years.

Aug 26, 2013
2:18 PM

Just picked up a BPA free lunch kit and went through closets to check clothing for school — almost all hand me downs! Thankful for generous friends! :-)

Aug 26, 2013
1:50 PM

I just ordered stainless steal lunch gear for my son, super excited!!!

Aug 26, 2013
10:19 AM

so cute

Aug 26, 2013
9:40 AM

My nephew begins ‘big kid school’ next week. One of his favourite things involves drinking cold water from his mum’s ‘big kid’ reusable bottle. Not sure how well one will fit in his backpack, but it’s a work in progress!

Aug 26, 2013
9:36 AM

Love the inspiration — It takes a community, neighborhood, family, let’s do it together :)

Aug 26, 2013
9:24 AM

I have always used re-useable containers. I freeze items that are “freezeable” to make sure things stay cold and try never to send commercially prepared items that I can make in my home.

Aug 26, 2013
8:50 AM

Make lots of lunches ahead of time and be careful what you are packaging them in, to reduce the amount of waste.

Aug 26, 2013
2:59 AM

Would love to get Planet box lunch set. School currently runs a green team and last year parent council helped raise funds to install hydration station for water bottle refills

Aug 25, 2013
9:24 PM

Great tips, esp. 4 — beeing green doesn’t just been buying more “green” stuff!

Aug 24, 2013
3:45 PM

My fiance calls me the “bag lady” because I have so many reusable bags :-) I think I’ve converted him, though.

Aug 23, 2013
10:36 AM

Great tips, I like to use cupcake liners to separate food in my daughters lunch

Aug 23, 2013
10:11 AM

My tip is to use glass containers to reduce the amount of plastic in my lunch kit!

Aug 23, 2013
9:54 AM

My daughters are too young for school yet, but when we go out to playgroup we use our bento boxes and Klean Kanteens to reduce waste. We also have our own reusable cutlery packed away in the diaper bag at all times.

Aug 23, 2013
3:13 AM

Bring on the reusable lunch bags!!! Fantastic ideas as usual. Thank you.

Aug 22, 2013
9:43 PM

I will be writing an article on litterless lunches this coming week. Spreading the word, trying to inspire others to make the switch.

Aug 22, 2013
7:34 PM

My girls don’t even start preschool till next year but I love finding ways to be more green and planning ahead :)

Aug 22, 2013
6:16 PM

I am happy to say my family follows all of the tips suggested above! I feel good about not being wasteful and knowing the choices we make (while some are less convenient) are better for us and the planet. My oldest son will be going to new school which is further away and I hope to be better at biking him to school year round!

Aug 22, 2013
4:50 PM

My son is starting full day kindergarten this year and his lunch supplies include reusable containers, real silverware, a thermos and a cloth napkin.

Aug 22, 2013
4:43 PM

We always try to send the kids with a healthy, peanut free, litterless lunch. so many rules these days!

Aug 22, 2013
3:06 PM

I’ve been sewing up a storm, getting ready for the school year — lots of cotton sandwich and snack bags to drastically cut down on our use of plastic bags!

Aug 22, 2013
2:44 PM

Need a reusable container in a pinch? Take a bowl, cover it with an inverted plate that fits, tie well with a kitchen towel and voilà! No waste.

Aug 22, 2013
2:36 PM

Start the year litterless lunch revolution!! Been using glass containers and Tupperware for children’s lunches.

Aug 22, 2013
2:26 PM

I like the idea of buying less. We are reusing school supplies this year, even if they aren’t the correct brand on the list, or they have creative doodling all over them. Such a small thing, but it’s all about baby steps.

Aug 22, 2013
12:56 PM

We live Planetbox! I find I pack much healthier lunches with them. Also, my kids love that they never have any trash!!!

Aug 22, 2013
12:30 PM

Love reausable lunch containers. I’ve eliminated plastic bags but using cloth reusable ones

Aug 22, 2013
11:55 AM

I think parents should have their kids walk to school. It is good exercise, and promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Aug 22, 2013
11:49 AM

We should all take a little time to create less litter and protect our beautiful planet! We utilize re-usable drink containers all the time :D A little bit goes a long way to making it a habit.

Aug 22, 2013
11:49 AM

I have a reusable water bottle and I use glass lunch containers and bring my own utensils.

Aug 22, 2013
9:15 AM

I love abeego for wraps, sandwiches and loose snacks (blueberries, nuts, raisins). Tiffins are great too, since they are fun for kids to open and close! :-)

Aug 21, 2013
9:11 PM

Get kids to be involved in lunch making! It can be fun and they can learn about healthy eating!

Aug 21, 2013
12:29 PM

our daughter’s daycare requires waste-free lunches that meet at least 3 of the 4 food groups. this used to make lunch-making extra stressful, but i now enjoy the challenge. this year our goal is to bring in more rainbow foods (and to have less of them come home untouched:))

Aug 20, 2013
4:32 PM

The great thing about the litterless lunch gear is that it lasts from year to year including snack taxi’s, tiffins and insulated lunch kits. I find my boys definitely bang up their stainless steel water bottles enough for replacement every year. They barely stand up anymore!

Aug 20, 2013
1:09 PM

I will bring my own water, rather than buying plastic bottled water. I also will continue to purchase non-toxic beauty products and more environmentally friendly products.

Aug 20, 2013
12:35 PM

We premake breakfast frittatas and freeze them so we have an easy, healthy, quick breakfast. Makes mornings so much easier!!

Aug 20, 2013
12:07 PM

I do love my planetbox. The rainbow eating we will work on this year

Aug 20, 2013
11:38 AM

My daughter starts full day kindergarten in September. To ensure lunch gets eaten, take your child with you to pick out and try BPA-free and stainless containers. There are several containers out there that little fingers just can’t open.

Aug 20, 2013
11:21 AM

Thanks for all your wonderful ideas!

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