Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Back to School" Impact

Is it possible for Back to School to be green?

If you're a traditional schooler, I just don't know. Really. Here are a few ways that public/private schooling affect the environment:

1. Driving. Whether bussed or driven by mom, millions of children have to go to and from somewhere every weekday.

2. Waste. Because of the nature of serving large numbers of people, most schools use disposable products. Disposable dinnerware, papers used on only one side, paper towels. A cafeteria garbage can is full of perfectly eatable, untouched food. And wrappers; moms who send lunches have the food wrapped in plastic because we all know kids can't seem to fit the gladware back in their lunchboxes.

3. Chemicals. Again, this is caused by the nature of serving large numbers of people. You need bad-#%$ cleaners to make those bathrooms usable, and lots of them. Lawns get sprayed with toxic chemicals for weeds and bugs; plastic, paint, and other fumes float through the air.

4. Paper. Teachers are not amused when you hand in an assignment written on the back of another assignment.

5. Clothing, and keeping up with the Jennifers. When my stepkidlets were in school, they needed a constant influx of stuff. Not just clothes, although clothes were definitely part of it. Sunglasses, specific brands of backpacks, uni-ball pens because they just feel nicer, accessories. Shopping at a thrift store was an appalling idea; they wouldn't even go inside. This is not only ghastly expensive, it also creates waste as perfectly good items were discarded to make room for the latest thing. Luckily, I saved a lot of it and it is now used by my homeschooled junior high schooler and my husband. My 13 year old has been dressed for two years from one teenager's senior year wardrobe... dressed well, and I still have a few huge boxes of other stuff for when this round gets stained, torn, or otherwise ruined.

That's one kid, one year. And I have personally seen kids brutally teased for not having this stuff, so I wasn't willing to put my darlings in that sitch.

Anyway, let's compare this to a homeschooler.

1. Driving. Yes, we do some driving on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I combine lessons with errands and one of these days Mrs. March and I are going to work out a carpooling plan. I'd say I drive around half as much as I did when I had kids in school, and it still feels like a lot.

2. Waste. Very un-encouraged. In fact, it's one of the only ways to get mom to blow her top. Creative leftover use is encouraged, and if you are getting a cup of water, put that glass where you can find it the next time you're thirsty. Disposable? Are you kidding me? I budget about five bucks a month on paper products, and that needs to include toilet paper for a family of eight.

We don't throw away food, we eat food. And it's real, recognizable agricultural products that are usually less than a week and a few miles removed from their origin. No canned stuff and what-is-in-the-chicken-nugget-cuz-you-know-chicken-isn't-spongy-like-that.

3. Chemicals? I clean with vinegar, sometimes diluted bleach. My husband has our lawn sprayed, though, and I get so mad about it but he's the manager of the company that does it so I can't cancel behind his back. I can live with crab grass; he thinks it reflects badly on our family and his job. Other toxins are just not here, partly because we gravitate toward used stuff that has already released its icky chemicals, and partly because I won't buy anything with a chemical I can't pronounce. Heavy duty cleaners just aren't necessary in the average household.

4. Paper. We mainly use the backsides of memos from my husbands job.

5. Clothing. Handed down, freecycled, bought on sale or used, and assigned to the Marshall family's complicated hierarchy of clothing. At the top is church clothing, which is fancy and usually matches the siblings' outfits. Then there are 'town clothes' which we wear out in public, to doctor's appointments, to lessons and co-ops. If they become less-than-perfect, they are re-assigned to everyday clothing. Last are the mud clothes: stained, mended, barely covering our backsides... these are not just for mud, but for painting and other super messy tasks. They are practically disposable.

The hand-me-down hierarchy is just as complicated. Church clothes and town clothes are handed down, everyday clothes go to the garage sale or freecycled, and mud clothes become rags and quilts.

As for 'stuff', I am against it and don't buy it. My kids have no one to impress. The other homeschoolers are just as cheap as I am, and they won't care if my daughter has a brand new Hannah Montana folder or an old file folder with a scribbled out label. They get 'stuff' as presents and from Freecycle, but I refuse to put a line in my budget for it.

Whether you are a public schooler, private schooler, or homeschooler, there are ways to make your stay on our little planet just a little less wasteful. What are you doing for our Earth?