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Back to school: Going green

What’s the newest green trend this back-to-school buying season? Think before you buy.

It’s not that difficult these days to coordinate the three R’s of being planet friendly - reduce, reuse and recycle - with reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic. Greening the back-to-school experience means thinking about what you really need to get your kids back into the classroom.

Before you head out, take an inventory of items you already have. Can you get another year out of that backpack? Do you really need another pair of child-safe scissors?

Then it’s decision time. Sometimes you’ll have to pay a little more up front to save a few bucks – as well as the planet – down the road. A stainless steel water bottle may set you back $15, for example, but then spares you the price of disposable plastic water bottles.

We consulted two green retailers to find out their eco-friendly back-to-school faves: Daniel Kron, a father of two who owns Genius Jones, a design store for kids with locations in Miami and Boca Raton, and Mylene D’Arelli, aka greenmom, a mother of two and owner of Green Dwellers, an online store and green boutique open by appointment in Plantation.


Backpacks made from eco-friendly materials are hot this year. Kron likes Dante Beatrix bags, constructed of nylon made from recycled water bottles. “They’re eco-friendly, but they don’t scream ‘nerd,’” Kron said. “My 6- and 8-year-olds love them.” Or try one made from a natural fiber like hemp or organic cotton. (Read more about finding the right backpack



Packing lunch:

Steer clear of prepackaged foods, juice boxes and pouches and pack your food and drink in reusable containers. Use cloth napkins and reusable utensils.


  • Try thrift stores, consignment shops and garage sales: There’s nothing greener than buying used, so hunt for gently-worn uniform staples and save a bundle.
  • Park your car: Let your child take the bus, bicycle or walk if you live close enough to school and this is a safe option. It’s a greener choice than sitting for 20 minutes with the motor running in the car line. 
  • Help your school organize a recycling program: Start small with a recycling bin in your child’s classroom. Encourage email communication to replace the mountain of fliers that come home every week. 
  • “We throw away so much stuff when we pack lunches – the little plastic baggies to wrap sandwiches and snacks in, the plastic utensils, the water bottles,” said D’Arelli, mom of a 5- and 8-year-old. “I try to get stuff that is reusable, but you want to get stuff that’s nontoxic, too.”

    Lunch totes: Remember your metal Partridge Family lunch box from the ‘70s? Well, metal is hot again. Check out compartmentalized metal boxes at, or eco-friendly lunch kits with reusable containers at or Green Dwellers carries neoprene insulated Gourmet Getaway lunch totes as well as Munchlers lunch boxes, BPA-free plastic totes in cute animal motifs that unzip to become a placemat. At Genius Jones, Kron said he is anxiously awaiting a new product called Goodbyn, a lunch bin with six compartments and containers that are free of BPA and Phthalates.

    Reusable sandwich and snack containers:

    You can find these in cloth now, but D’Arelli said she has found a more practical product. She carries ReUsable sandwich and snack pacs, the BPA-free plastic envelopes with Velcro enclosures. They’re washable and can hold juicy items like cantaloupe. Or check out

    for stainless steel containers and lids.

    * Reusable utensils: D’Arelli was sending her silverware to school with lunch until she discovered RePEat Bamboo utensil sets. It’s made of a highly-renewable resource and is durable, to boot.

    Tote bags:

    Try a kid’s version of the reusable grocery bag, and teach your kids early. D’Arelli likes the Eco bags Kids series, bags with cute designs that can fold to be pocket-sized. Find other canvas totes at


    * Recycled pencils: D’Arelli recommends Smencils, scented pencils made from recycled newspapers. Check out Paper Mate's Earthwrite recycled pencils or look for biodegradable or refillable pens.

    Recycled paper products:

    Filler paper made from post-consumer waste is starting to pop up in mainstream stores such as Office Depot and Staples. Mead and Ecojot make a line of recycled paper notebooks. Look for binders made from recycled paper.

    Reusable water bottles:

    Instead of going through box of juice pouches every two weeks, try buying a big container of juice and refilling a reusable bottle. D’Arelli prefers and sells the non-leaching stainless steel over the aluminum bottles. The optional BPA-free sport tops make it easy for little ones to drink, she said. Kron likes Foogo, made by Thermos, which offers insulated metal bottles that keep food or beverages hot or cold. Sigg and Klean Kanteen offer kid-friendly versions, too.

    Art supplies:

    Rethink heading to the craft store for every art project that comes home from school. Try hoarding bottle caps, scraps of clean aluminum foil, leftover yarn, etc. to make dioramas and posters.