Going back to school green

Now that summer is waning, and the days are shortening, many kids (and their parents) are getting ready to go back to school. With the autumnal rite of passage comes myriad back-to-school sales and retail overload as stocks of pencils, pens, and paper are depleted in anticipation of a year full of learning. So, how do you combine school's three R's -- that's readin', writin' and 'rithmetic -- with the planet's three R's of reduce, reuse, and recycle? Here's how to follow up your green summer, full of green barbeques and fun, with a green school year.

Though it happens every year, we still seem programmed to equate going back to school with buying tons of new stuff; indeed, the average family with school-aged children will spend $594.24 on back-to-school purchases this year. And, while schooling requires supplies, we too often turn to disposable supplies to do the job -- six billion pens are thrown away in the U.S. every year, for example. Plus, going back to school offers a clean slate for a fresh start that can inspire New Year's-like resolutions, like, "This'll be the year I bike to school each day," or, "I promise to consistently pack my own lunch instead of buying from the cafeteria." While noble, these new resolutions often also require more stuff (like a new bike, to use one of the above examples), so be sure you aren't overstating your goals and biting off more than you can chew.

Preparation is important, but so is following your green prep with green behavior, extending your good green start to behaviors that last all year. For example, every ton of paper -- or 220,000 sheets--  that is recycled saves approximately 17 trees. For scale, the average school tosses 38 tons of paper -- the equivalent of 644 trees -- each year, so purchasing post-consumer recycled paper, and making sure that it gets recycled again, can make a big difference.

It's a challenge to properly outfit ourselves and our kids with supplies for another year of learning without bankrupting and pollutingour planet's resources in the process. Read on to learn more about how to go green when going back to school.