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The sun may be strong, the beaches still open, and our gardens showing no signs of slowing, but in mailboxes across the country there are signs of a different season. Letters from teachers announcing the start of a new school year are now arriving complete with lists of the supplies our kids will need to get to the head of the class. According to the National Retail Federation, the average family with school-age children will spend $594 on back-to school purchases in 2010, and the country as a whole will rack up a $20 billion tab preparing for the coming academic year. That's a lot of purchasing power, but too much of it will end up buying disposable items made from non-renewable resources. A better way to earn a higher grade is to look for necessities that pass the sustainability test. That starts by making sure you don't already have what you need. Chances are you've got many of the pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, calculators, and other things your kids require hiding somewhere at home either as leftovers from last school year or previously purchased home office supplies. Rather than send your child's lunch in a paper bag, invest in a reusable sack. Same goes for drinks -- instead of sending a new juice box or water bottle each day, send beverages in a reusable, BPA-free bottle. Appearing on many supplies lists this year are spray cleaners and disinfecting wipes. Please buy environmentally friendly formulations when you can! Seventh Generation offers a great line of spray cleaners and a line of disinfecting sprays and wipes. You can find these products at retailers near you or online.  photo: OliBac

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!