10 Ways To Reduce Plastic When Going Back To School

It’s everyone’s favourite time of year – back to school! This season, we’re encouraging you to bring all the excitement and public health awareness, and leave behind the plastic. 

Here are 10 ways to reduce plastic waste when going back to school. From stationery to protective gear, we’ve got you covered.  We’ve also included some places to shop for eco-friendly alternatives from Canadian businesses. 

PANDEMIC PROTECTION 

Mask wearing and sanitizing are essential items in this year’s return to school, and they are directly related to plastic waste production from personal protective equipment (PPE) and single-use plastic (SUP). Here are ways that students can help achieve pandemic and environmental protection simultaneously. 

  1. Optimize Quality Cloth Masks

Quality cloth masks are the solution to reducing both the threat of COVID-19 and the production of plastic pollution. Recent studies state that approximately 129 billion face masks are used globally every month. That is 16 times the world’s population! PPEs such as disposable masks are made from microsized plastic fibers. As such, limiting the use of disposable masks can reduce plastic when going back to school. For students who prefer double-masking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends layering a cloth mask over a disposable medical mask for optimal protection. For students who are comfortable with wearing only a cloth mask, the CDC recommends masks that are made from 2-3 ply cotton fabric with a metal nose piece. Here are some places where you can find quality cloth masks: 

Jonny Mask (Toronto) – shipping only

Make (Vancouver) – shipping and in-store pickup 

Sock Factory Waterloo (Waterloo) – in-store purchase and pickup

Bonus Tip: Carry spare masks to school in a paper envelope or reusable container. 

2. Refill Hand Sanitizer Bottles

Hand sanitizer is a new backpack staple for many of us. To reduce the use of plastic sanitizer bottles, students could practice refilling their sanitizer bottles rather than buying a new bottle of sanitizer. You can either reuse the original sanitizer bottle or check out this glass spray bottle and reusable PET plastic bottle from All Things Being Eco

 

SUSTAINABLE STATIONERY

School supplies are definitely an exciting part of back-to-school prep. It is important to remember that new stationary and supplies often means buying more SUPs. Here are some tips for reducing plastic while still getting excited for all the notes you’ll take and things you’ll learn!  

3. Replace Plastic Stationary With Eco-Friendly Alternatives

When it comes to reducing plastic for school, choosing eco-friendly stationery is the place to start. In 2019, there were approximately 4.92 million students in public elementary and secondary schools across Canada. Now imagine the cumulative environmental damage from each student’s plastic school supplies during the span of their schooling career…yikes! By choosing the following eco-friendly alternatives, students can significantly reduce the amount of plastic used in school: 

Bonus Tip: Purchase loose items to avoid extra plastic waste in the form of packaging. 

4. Say No to Plastic Posters

Classrooms, lockers, hallways, cafeterias, bathrooms, the gym – plastic posters are everywhere! Although it may not be obvious, lamination and PVC materials used for posters and banners are plastic. To reduce plastic this back-to-school season, create projects and promote events with fabric banners and paper posters. 

 

LITTERLESS LUNCH 

We all know that food packaging can significantly contribute to plastic pollution. The following methods ensure safe packaging and purchasing of food with minimal plastic use. 

5. Buy Food With Little to No Plastic 

The first step to achieving both food safety and environmental protection is to reduce the amount of plastic at the checkout. During Covid-19, the world experienced a hike in the use of SUP packaging and plastic bags. To counter the additional SUP pollution, purchase food items in bulk. This approach is not only environmentally-friendly, but also cost effective. While you are buying in bulk, don’t forget to bring your own reusable shopping bags. Check out the selection of reusable grocery bags, bread bags and wet bags from All Things Eco.  

6. Pack Food With Little to No Plastic

After buying with little to no plastic, complete the process by packing lunches with eco-friendly alternatives to plastic kitchenware and SUP packaging: 

  • Metal straws (see this stainless steel option from Boho & Hobo)
  • Silicon bags (All Things Eco has an extensive selection) 
  • Fabric zip bags (check out this handmade, zero-waste sandwich and snack bag set from Boho & Hobo)
  • Glass jars (tip: search the house for reusable salsa, pickle or jam jars) 
  • Paper bags (explore the lunch and sandwich bag options from Green Munch) 

Hint: Plastic containers are okay, as long as they are reusable!

 

CLEAN CLOTHING 

Back to school fashion is part of the fun! As back-to-school shopping sprees are being planned, keep in mind that plastic has long been a problem in the fashion industry. 

7. BYOB – Bring Your Own BAG

Bringing your own shopping bag is a simple act that can make a big difference. Single-use plastic bags make up the majority of plastic litter in Canada where approximately 15 billion plastic bags are used per year. Here are some alternatives:

  • Rather than relying on new plastic bags, reuse plastic bags from home
  • Bring a sustainable fabric tote bag (browse the collection from The Market Bags)
  • Bring your own backpack or large handbag 

Did You Know: Canada plans to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030. Get ahead by starting your collection of reusable bags! 

8. Choose Natural Fibre Clothing 

With the prominence of fast fashion, the fashion industry has significantly contributed to plastic waste production. Clothing from fast fashion retailers is primarily made from virgin polyester which is a source of microplastics. In this way, clothing items cause environmental damage in the same way as the plastic bags they are sold in. One solution is to purchase items that are made from natural fibres. Consider shopping for eco-friendly clothes at stores, such as All Things Eco, that have a full selection of styles and options. 

Bonus Tip: Another way to reduce fashion waste (and avoid spending a lot of  money) is reusing clothes. Look for hand me downs, buy second-hand clothes or organize a clothing exchange with your friends!

 

BPA-FREE BACKPACK

Now that we have all our PPE, school supplies and clothes taken care of, we need something sustainable to carry it all.  Everyone loves a good and good looking backpack! Sometimes these carry-alls get one good year of use out of them.  We don’t blame them…they work hard.  But how can we make sure that our backpacks leave less of a footprint?

9. Invest in Eco-Friendly Backpacks

In the same way as clothing, fabrics used in making backpacks may contain microfibres that are a source of microplastics. Alternatively, eco-friendly backpacks are made from recyclable and organic fabrics that are ethically sourced. Consider completing the back-to-school shopping list with a sustainable and practical backpack from Tentree.

10. Audit for Your Backpack

Every student is different and every student’s backpack content is different. The best way to achieve optimal plastic reduction this back-to-school season is by completing a backpack audit for plastic. Backpack audits are a great way to discover additional plastic waste used for school that could be avoided, recycled or reduced. Having a full understanding of your personal plastic consumption habits is a great way to hold yourself accountable. 

We’re sure there are plenty more ways you can protect the planet when you go back to school.  Do you have any more ideas? Share them with us on social media @girlsinscience.

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