Combating Back-to-School Waste

Recently came across this article from Fast Co.Exist about back-to-school waste and the infographics are a bit crazy. All you have to do is walk into a Target a few weeks before start of school to see this type of waste in action. However, the article also points out consumers habits are changing – keeping spending down and looking for the best value. Here’s a few ideas on how parents and kids could lessen their school waste using lessons from the sharing economy.


I know kids grow like crazy, so wearing the same clothes year-after-year is impossible. And I know there’s a fashion point of pride for kids not relegated to school uniforms.

English: The S.W.A.P. Team founder at a Take O...

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But what if the kids could trade with others their age? And what if by doing so, they were better able to understand the value of items, entrepreneurship and the impact of their waste?

Solution – a clothing swap for kids, planned by kids. Clothing swaps have seen a surge in the last few years, become high class events drawing hundreds of people. Unlike a rummage sale or swap meet, participants don’t pay for goods with cash. Instead, the clothes brought in are evaluated and the individual receives credit (tokens, tickets, etc) to use towards “purchasing” other items at the swap. By empowering kids to host their own booths and shop for their own clothes, they are more likely to take pride in their “purchases”. Less waste, less cost and the kids learn about the value of an item. It could even become a lesson in entrepreneurship, as kids can decorate their booths and learn how to advertise their goods.

Pinterest to the Rescue

Old doesn’t mean out of style. Thanks to sites like Pinterest, parents and kids have a resource to share ideas on reusing school supplies.

My personal favorite postings on Pinterest  are those related to clothes hacking. Even if you’re a sewing n00b (like myself), many of the projects are simple with clear directions. Take a look at my T-Shirt Projects board to see what I mean.

A quick search on Pinterest also provided some great links for bringing a new life to old school supplies.

From  wikihow – Reusing old school supplies

Mile Hi Mama – How to wash a backpack

School Lunch Waste

Your food is the best - Don't waste it - NARA ...

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This one is a bit tougher. I don’t know the reasons why food waste is more prevalent in schools, but I can take a guess based on my schooling.

Buffet lines — I remember reading in The Omnivore’s Dilemma about portion size change over the years. Research has shown that over the past 100 years, the average plate size has gone from 9-12 inches. Additionally, there have been studies proving cafeteria-style serving trays also make us load up with more food than we need. These factors have shown to cause increased food intake in adults, so I’d imagine the same would go for students, who are exposed to this type of food environment nearly every day.

I know it’s got to be damn near impossible to change school cafeterias. What if again we empowered kids? Encourage them to make their own lunches, therefore keeping costs down and waste. If their choosing to pack a favorite food wouldn’t they eat more of it?

There’s lots of opportunities out there to make back-to-school preparation just as fun and teach students a valuable lesson in sustainability at the same time. Based on the article, it seems parents may be ready for the change.

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