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June action of the month: Save and reuse school supplies for a zero waste last day of school!


We all remember the frenzy that took hold of us on the last day of school when the bell rang and we rushed to toss our notebooks and binders in the trash can (or even burn them!) as a symbol of our freedom. Inevitably, we then had to buy new supplies at the beginning of the next school year, an important cost not only for our parents but also for the planet…

With hindsight, we know that we can do better than that. If you’re now a parent, a grandparent or a teacher, here are four easy ways to reduce waste at the end of the school year.

1. Take a moment to raise your children’s/students’ awareness and find ways to reward them for their efforts

Before your children (or students, if you’re a teacher) bring home or dump out the entire contents of their desk and locker, take some time to help them assess what condition their supplies are in and explain why it’s important to extend the lives of their supplies.

If they’ve taken good care of their supplies throughout the year and can reuse them again next year, you could give them a green reward (for example, an outing rather than a material purchase). An outing to the local ice cream parlour or mini-golf? Let your imagination run wild!

If some supplies are broken or in poor condition, your children/students can put them in the recycling bin (the cardboard from a binder, for example, or a plastic case). Or, on some rainy day during summer vacation, they can use their imagination (and your help) to repair their supplies or turn them into something else! The next point contains some fun tips on how to do just that.

2. Fun ideas to repurpose and give new life to school supplies

  • Binder or notebook: use wrapping paper from a previous birthday or craft paper to cover a binder and let your child artist draw a masterpiece. You can do the same thing with a notebook – simply remove the pages that have already been used! You can even use coloured duct tape to “MacGyver” binders and other supplies!

Refurbish a school bag or pencil case that has seen better days: find a patch, badge or piece of fabric to patch a hole in the schoolbag. Encourage your child to express their personality with a one-of-a-kind schoolbag!

Breathe new life/colour into coloured pencils: Often all it takes is to sharpen the pencils one by one to make it seem like a brand new box for back-to-school day. Pencils that can’t be salvaged can be replaced one by one in art supply stores so you won’t have to buy a whole new box.

Repair the zipper on a backpack, pencil case or lunch bag: your local shoemaker and seamstress are valuable resources. Bring your child to visit these artisans and make it fun to learn how they repair and put a fresh face on our belongings.

Armed with a needle and thread, mend the lining in a cloth lunch bag, or put a bit of oil on the latches and clasps of a metal lunch box. For the parents of children attending school for the first time, choosing a backpack or lunch bag with a removable liner can make cleaning a breeze. Here’s a tip on removing old persistent odours: soak a reusable sponge in some vinegar and leave it in the lunch bag overnight.

3. Swap supplies for a new look!

Is your child tired of a Dora the Explorer school bag? Is a bag too small or too big? Is your child asking for a new pencil case? Try swapping supplies among other parents, friends or neighbours. Your kids will get “new” things, and your used items will get a second life!

You can also go to a thrift shop or a second-hand store (Renaissance, Value Village) or look on Kijiji to find used supplies that are still in good condition. Buying a used calculator is as simple as 1+1 = 2!

4. Before buying… think local and sustainable!

If you’ve gone through all the options of recovering, repairing, swapping and buying used, the best option is to buy a quality product that will last, ideally a product that was made locally. Pharmacies, big box stores and dollar stores sell very inexpensive but very flimsy products that will have to be replaced the following year. The savings you get from buying them won’t last long… and the planet will pay the price as well.

Here are some ideas for sustainable school supplies, many of them manufactured here:

This is a leather pencil case my mom bought when I was 6 years old. I remember it costing a lot and her telling me she hoped I’d take good care of it. I can tell you I still use it, 24 years later! Can we say the same for what we buy at the drug store? - Camille Gagné-Raynauld, Media Relations

This is a Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) backpack with a lifetime warranty. I’m still using this as well, 24 years later! - Camille Gagné-Raynauld, Media Relations

Don’t forget to write your children’s names on their supplies using a sticker or label. That way you’ll minimize the inevitable trips to the lost and found.

Parents and teachers, the ball’s in your court! But that being said, have a fun and well-earned break this summer, and thanks for taking care of our budding environmentalists all year long!

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