Make back-to-school shopping sustainable with the Three R’s

Ready or not, it’s time to begin planning for a new school year.

With the start of school comes football season, new teachers and a back-to-school shopping list. Before darting out to the store to pick up new clothing and supplies, take a moment to revisit the Three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

You already use the Three R’s on a daily basis by recycling all bottles, cans and paper. Decisions about back-to-school clothing provide the perfect opportunity to put the Three R’s to work and step up the sustainability in your household.

Reduce. Rummage through your kids’ closets and see what you have on hand. The greenest back-to-school clothes are the ones already in your closet. Make a list of items you already own and only purchase what’s needed.

Reuse. Instead of purchasing new clothes, shop first at the neighborhood second-hand store. You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck and find one-of-a-kind items. Better yet, consider a swap. Check with neighbors and friends to see if you can trade clothing, shoes and backpacks.

Recycle. Clothing that’s no longer needed can be donated for reuse and recycling. All clothing — even torn, worn or stained items that are no longer in usable condition — can be recycled. Only textiles that are wet or mildewed belong in the garbage.

By putting the Three R’s to work, we can reduce the environmental impact of back-to-school shopping in ways that add up. The difference we can make together is clear when you consider the big picture: Americans throw away more than 70 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Clothing manufacturing requires precious natural resources including water, energy and land. It also generates pollution. The EPA estimates that diverting all of the textiles that are currently being thrown away would reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. In fact, it would have the same effect as taking 7.3 million cars off the road.

This year, let’s embrace back-to-school as a time to start new routines that make real and lasting change in our community and for the environment. Sustainable clothing is always in style.

Michelle Metzler is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. Learn more about lifecycle thinking at sustainability.wm.com.

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