Back to School for Less

September 3, 2019 | Sophi

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Thrilled to kick off my role as this fall's Environmentalist in Residence with tips on how I do back to school in an eco-friendly way for less.

This time of year can be equally exciting and stressful seeing as supplies and an updated wardrobe can get costly. As a waste prevention enthusiast and mother of a 5-year-old, I'm sharing what I've found helpful to keep things low cost and low waste. Here's how I find supplies for cheap or free to update my kiddos style and pack their lunches.

Kid Fashion

Secondhand is the way to go. With 85% of used textiles going to landfill annually, shopping for clothing that's already in circulation is not only helping the planet but it's also economical and often in like-new condition.

Local secondhand clothes online, say what?!

You may be surprised to hear that there are kids online thrift shops right here in Toronto. They’ll deliver the clothes to you so you don’t have to drag the little ones shopping. These online shops are user-friendly and curated with quality clothing. By shopping locally you're also supporting your community.

Child feeding ducks
My child wearing a secondhand swimsuit and sun hat by the lake. Photo by Sophi Robertson.

Shops to check out in-person:


Kid Stuff

Adding flair to school supplies:

When it comes to school supplies you likely already have some of what you need at home. Dust off those binders and folders from college. Not cool enough? Find some stickers to decorate the binders and make them fun.

My daughter asked for a new backpack when hers is still in near-perfect condition after two years. Instead of donating her bag I asked if she'd like to freshen it up with some patches. Now what seemed old and tired is fresh again! 

Places I've sourced school supplies from:

  • Community, friends and neighbours (people often have a surplus of supplies they'd be happy to get rid of)
  • Bunz
  • Kijiji (check the free section too)
  • Yard, garage and rummage sales
  • Swaps (great for clothing, housewares and supplies)
  • Facebook (Buy NothingZero Waste Toronto or Facebook Marketplace)
Kids Swap at Withrow Market
Kids Stuff Swap at Withrow Market.

Kid Food

Litterless Lunch:

I traded a bag of beans for her lunch bag on Bunz. I mostly use containers I already have kicking around the house. I reuse plastic food containers for snacks, tiny jam jars for dips, washed and reused Ziploc bags, reusable bottle for water/drinks, cutlery from the kitchen and secondhand cloth napkins. I wrap sandwiches in cloth using the Japanese art of Furoshiki


Wrapping a bagel in a cloth napkin
Sandwich wrapped in a cloth napkin. Photo by Sophi Robertson.


Snacks I can usually source package-free:

  • Seeds
  • Raisins
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Potato peel chips (recipe below)
  • Bagel chips (thinly sliced bagels baked in the oven until golden)


A litterless lunch
A typical litterless lunch for my daughter. Photo by Sophi Robertson.

Where I shop for food:

I avoid using plastic bags at the grocery store and bulk shop by reusing any old clean jars, plastic containers or cloth bags. Ask the cashier to weigh the empty container (tare weight) so that can be removed from your total weight when filled.

Potato peel chips  recipe:

If you peel your potatoes, here's a simple tasty snack to use up the peels.

  • Wash and dry peels.
  • Lightly toss with oil and preferred seasoning, if desired (salt, pepper, garlic powder).
  • Place on a cookie sheet and crisp in the oven on broil for a few minutes. Flip halfway through.


Upcoming Low-/Zero-Waste Events:


Recommended books:

Earth Friends At School

Earth Friends at School

Furoshiki the art of wrapping with fabric

Furoshiki: The Art of wrapping with fabric


Lunch Lessons

Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way we Feed our Children


Looking for more low-waste tips for kids? I enjoy reading the blog Popcorn Ceiling Life.

What other tips do you have? Please share in the comments below!