Back to school and back to basics for recycling

The season of freshly sharpened pencils, new backpacks and crisp sneakers is here. That’s right, it’s already back-to-school time.

And as fun as it is to stock up for the new school year, all that back-to-school shopping has an environmental impact that adds up. The EPA estimates that Americans throw away more than 70 pounds of clothing and textiles per person every year.

Fortunately, the recycling skills you have honed on plastics, paper and cans are every bit as helpful when it comes to making school shopping more sustainable. Think of it as reduce, reuse and recycle – back-to-school style:

Reduce: The greenest back-to-school clothes are the ones already in your closet! Before getting in the shopping spirit, inventory what you have. Spend some time with your kids going through closets to see what’s missing.

Reuse: Instead of purchasing new clothes, try your hand at thrifting at the neighborhood second-hand store. You’ll get more bang for your buck and, if you’re lucky, find some great one-of-a-kind items. Better yet, consider a swap. Check with neighbors and friends about trading clothing, shoes and backpacks.

Recycle: Clothing that’s no longer needed can be donated for reuse and recycling. Take those tired or torn clothes to your local thrift store for resale or recycling. Most clothing, even torn or stained items that are no longer in usable condition, can be recycled. Clothes that aren’t suitable for resale are turned into fiber for new products like sound-proofing, insulation and stuffing. Only textiles that are wet or mildewed belong in the garbage. Donated items that cannot be resold are recycled through programs such as King County’s Threadcycle at local thrift stores.

With a little help from the “Three Rs,” we can reduce the environmental impact of back-to-school shopping in a big way. In fact, the EPA estimates that diverting the textiles that are thrown away every year would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions – equivalent to taking 7.3 million cars off the road.

That’s an admirable goal, and one that we can all help achieve as we prepare for the new school year. Let the school bells ring.

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

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