By Cara Smusiak

When shopping for notebooks and other paper products, look for a high recycled paper content.

When shopping for notebooks and other paper products, look for a high recycled paper content.

It's the time of year again: Kids and parents around the country are getting ready for another school year, and that means serious shopping time. But before you head out for a marathon shopping day, think about the ways you can go green to make your child's school year an eco-friendly one.

When you're shopping for notebooks, loose-leaf paper or printer paper, and other paper products, look for a high post-consumer recycled paper content. Many companies make paper products with about 15 to 30 percent recycled content, but there are some making products with 85 to 100 percent recycled content, and those are the ones that make the most difference for the planet.

When it comes to notebooks, the recycled options are often pricy. Ecojot notebooks run about $12 for a 300-page jumbo journal, but they're as green as you can get. Ecojot's journals and sketchbooks are made in Canada with 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, and the paper and board covers are acid-free and chlorine-free. The inks and glues are all vegetable-based, so they're completely biodegradable. The company's paper mill is powered by biogas from a local landfill, and even the packaging is corn-based. If that isn't enough incentive, the company donates a notebook to a child in need for every journal or sketchbook sold.

Back-to-school is as much about clothing as it is about backpacks and school supplies. Green clothing is also getting easier and easier to find, and while pricing used to make green clothing options out of the reach of most families, organic, sustainable and recycled clothing options are now often priced the same as conventional clothing. Major retailers including Wal-Mart and Target sell organic cotton clothing, and H&M has organic cotton, bamboo and recycled denim clothing at affordable prices.

Organic cotton makes a big difference by reducing reliance on pesticides and insecticides. Conventional cotton is grown on just 2.4 percent of land suitable for farming worldwide, but it consumes about 25 percent of all insecticides and 10 percent of pesticides used annually. Recycled cotton and polyester clothing is also cropping up in stores, and it's a great way to maximize the use of materials and divert waste from landfills.

Swaps and second-hand shops are also a great place to stock up on essentials, such as t-shirts, jeans, and more. Buying second-hand will help you save money, swaps let you trade up from the clothing your kids have outgrown, and both options help divert clothing from landfills and reduce demand for new clothing.

Lunch containers are also a big back-to-school item. Cheap reusable lunch containers are a dime a dozen, but quality is essential. Many cheap lunch containers are made with cheap plastics that can leech chemicals, including bisphenol-A (BPA), into food or drink--particularly hot foods and drinks, and acidic items such as juice and tomatoes.

Polypropylene plastic, identified by the number five, is one of the most stable plastics; it isn't known to leech any chemicals and is considered safe for storing foods. All plastic lunch containers should be made with polypropylene, but there are alternatives.

Stainless steel food containers are a great option, and there are lots of options out there. LunchBots makes stainless steel containers, and Klean Kanteen makes BPA-free stainless steel drink containers in a variety of sizes. Looking to save big? Check out stainless steel containers made for camping--they're usually on sale this time of year and they're made to take a beating.

If you're hooked on plastic sandwich bags because they're easier than washing food containers, try fabric food pouches. Perfect for dry foods, such as sandwiches, dried fruits, and cookies, anyone can easily make several pouches with a yard of cotton fabric and some Velcro. At the end of the week, just toss the food pouches in with your tea towels and you're set for another week.

Going green throughout the school year is about simple changes and alternatives, and it starts with picking up eco-friendly essentials now.

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