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back to school on a package-free budget - part 2

If you’ve read Part 1 of this blog series, you know that Back to School shopping is a HUGE marketing scam to try to get you to consume more. You JUST finished school what, 70 to 120 days ago, so we’re going to bet your old pencil case still work. And if not, you can easily learn how to repair the zipper for free at the next Toronto Repair Cafe.

This is a 3 Part blog series and today we’re on Part 2.

Yesterday we revealed our top 3 tips for handling this year’s Back to School shopping frenzy. Today we’re sharing an in-depth list of low-waste alternatives (and where to get them!) for common Back to School products. Tomorrow we’re offering a few simple swaps for a truly litterless lunch.

Whether you’re pinching pennies, trying to create less trash, or gearing up to learn in style, this blog series is for you. 

Back to School A-B-C's 

Now that you have the basics, you’re likely ready to dive a bit deeper. We get it, doing your back-to-school shopping without the packaging can be overwhelming and time consuming. To get you started we’ve put together a list from A to Z (er, in line with our emphasis on reducing we may have cut some letters out… don’t tell the kids!) of common back-to-school products. Read on to get the low-down on how to find eco-friendly and low-waste alternatives.

Backpack – Jansport offers a lifetime warranty to fix or replace your backpack even if you purchase it secondhand. We visited the thrift store this weekend and couldn't find Jansport, but did find LOTS of backpacks for $5.99 each. 

Binders – Remember Beth’s Big Back to School Binder Debate from 2009? If not, basically the question goes, “buy new and support sustainable business ventures or re-use what we’ve already got plenty of even if it may not be healthy for you?” The choice is yours, but either way make sure you’re making conscious decisions. On the other hand, if you have a lot of spare time, you could always attempt to DIY!

Book Covers – Skip it. We’ve never used these and no one’s died because of it.

Clothing –  Check out your local thrift store or Bunz community. Heck, why not host a clothing swap with friends and family as an end of summer sendoff or join one of the many clothing swaps that happen each month in Toronto?

Computer – If you must replace your computer, opt for a refurbished or used one. All major retailers offer this option and it comes at a slight discount. In addition, the Guide to Greener Electronics, published each fall by Greenpeace USA, ranks the world’s leading consumer electronics companies in a report card based on what they are doing to address energy use, resource consumption, and the elimination of hazardous chemicals from products and manufacturing. In 2017, Fairphone and Apple received the highest grades. We’re looking forward to seeing who’s on top and who’s not for 2018.

Eraser - We’re all about that art gum eraser. It’s the only eraser we know of that’s made from natural rubber instead of plastic. If you’re an artist, we know YOU KNOW this eraser is a godsend. We bet you’ve snuck a few extras into your backpack from the school’s art class supply room…or was this just us? Find it at various art stores or at Staples. Downer: it often comes wrapped in plastic.

Glue – We love crafts too, so we’re going to teach you how to get yourself out of a sticky situation (pun intended!). Laugh at us while we attempt this recipe in our Instagram (@baremrkt) story today. 

  • RECIPEIn a glass bowl, mason jar or pot, very slowly add 3 tbsp of flour to 3 tbsp of room temperature water and stir until completely incorporated… and then stir some more. If using a glass bowl/mason jar, add hot water to a second, larger container and place the first bowl/mason jar inside. If using a pot, turn on a burner to low and mix some more. In both cases, add 1 tbsp of salt and 2 tbsp of sugar to the heating flour-water mixture. Continue to stir until a paste is produced. If you want a thinner consistency, strain this through a sieve. Voila, you’re done!

Highlighters – Did you know you can pick up pencils that are so bright they work as highlighters? No plastic waste, no bleeding, no drying time. Boom. We’re working on getting these puppies in stock so you don’t have to purchase them from *shudder* Amazon.

Paper – Don’t be fooled by green labels and packaging. FSC-certified paper is largely still made from virgin trees. Opt for 100% post-consumer recycled paper packed in a paper slip instead. Rolland is a Canadian company that offers truly sustainable printer paper options. Very few retailers carry it in the GTA (and none in Toronto), so you’ll have to do some digging. Might as well dig around your home or a thrift store first for pre-loved paper and notebooks. Speaking of notebooks - Decomposition notebooks are beautifully made in the States from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, soy-ink and bio-gas.     

Pencils – Bare Market stocks JustEco pencils (6-pack) and coloured pencils (12-pack). These pencils are made in a small village in China that focuses on sustainable living and are made with 100% recycled paper, natural waxes, colours and oils, and non-toxic graphite. The colours come from flowers and food sources, such as beets. The production of these pencils provides families in this village with a stable income and helps them stay together rather than losing teenagers to the big factories. A double win for children’s education!

Image by: Dayna Stein

Pens – 2 words: Fountain. Pen. You’ll never look back. Ever. Unlike normal pens, which are designed for the dump, fountain pens are refillable... for life. Simply pick a model that comes with a converter or a piston ink cartridge. Then choose from an endless array of ink colours. Best part? The ink is actually easier to source in a glass bottle than it is in a single-use container.

Planner – Many schools provide planners, so no need to buy one too. We think these are quite wasteful - how many students actually use them for more than 30 days? For older students, get used to using Google Calendar or iCal on your computer or phone. You can invite classmates to the same deadline and it will remind you all when that deadline is coming up. Best of all, you’ll actually use this in real life too (AKA life after school).

Stapler – For smaller packages, we use this next trick on the daily. It works the same way a stapleless stapler works. You’ve got our 100% satisfaction guarantee. In fact, we're pretty lazy and just rip the paper (4 sheet max) and fold each side towards a different direction and it holds just as well. 


Tape - Ten bucks says you own this already. Look in your basement. Look in your giveaway pile (because you don’t actually use it that often). Reclaim it from your dog’s chew toy collection. If you need a new roll, try kraft paper tape instead. It’s not a perfect solution, so test out the DIY glue above for a 100% plastic-free option.

TI Calculator - Whatever you do, don’t buy this new. Bunz. Thrift Store. Older siblings. After grade 12 calculus, you’ll likely never use it again. High schools should really rent them out for the 9 months they’re in use. Easy money for them, no waste for you. Ask them to.

Last Words of Wisdom? If in doubt, thrift it out.

Do you have other Back to School items you’ve sourced waste-free or can’t figure out how to? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

Ready for more? Read Part 3 now! 

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