Back to school, part 2

In many ways, the school year opening is like Christmas. Children expect treats in the form of new shoes, bags, uniforms, supplies, lunch boxes and even new accessories to prettify books and notebooks. I must admit that I used to be one of those kids. School didn’t seem so exciting unless my parents bought me new shoes and bags even if the ones I used the previous year were still in decent condition. Even notebooks were an issue. I wanted those with pretty covers and smooth white pages.

Well, those were the days when ecological concerns weren’t screaming right at our faces. I remember many of my teachers in grade school who objected to the use of notebooks and pad papers made from recycled paper. Of course, “recycled paper” was practically an unknown term back then. The terms used were “smooth, white paper” as against “newsprint.” My class adviser in the sixth grade, a Mrs. Quiday, had an even stranger way of making us understand what she required–no “bagong lipunan” notebooks and pad paper; “lumang lipunan” quality paper only. “Bagong lipunan,” of course, meant newsprint while “lumang lipunan” meant the standard white paper used in books, notebooks and pad papers prior to the imposition of Martial Law. And she was our science teacher, believe it or not–a science teacher who didn’t pay much attention to the relation among paper, trees and the environment.

Well, that was a long time ago and there’s a new generation of teachers and educators who know better. It’s a good thing that my own kids go to a school where lessons on caring for the environment are integrated with all their subjects. That saves me the trouble of having to convince them that new shoes and bags have nothing to do with learning and getting educated.

For a lot of other families, however, new stuff still seems to be an incentive dangled before children to lessen the grief over the end of the summer vacation and heighten the excitement of returning to school. If you check statistics on spending habits of Filipino families, assuming the statistics are accurate, it appears that Filipinos do more shopping before school starts than they do for Christmas. And if you were in the shopping malls these past weekends, you probably wondered where the air-conditioning had gone. The crowds were that thick.

The EcoWaste Coalition collated tips from various groups and has come up with some guidelines on how parents can cut unnecessary expenses and at the same time address environmental concerns:

1. Discuss with your kids about the beauty and importance of being simple and thrifty, and the need to cut back on wastes and toxins for a healthier and safer environment. Guide them to appreciating recycling and other green practices as essential and fun.

2. Make an inventory of leftover school supplies from the last academic year, collect all bits and pieces and use them up before thinking of purchasing new ones.

3. Hold off from buying new school supplies before classes start. Wait for instructions from teachers regarding the correct number and sizes of required notebooks, pens, art supplies and other materials to avoid buying needless items.

4. Wash old school bags and stitch them up if necessary; try making recycled carry bags for your kids from old denim pants or clothes or from fabric scraps.

5. Collect all clean notebook sheets, rewire or sew them together to make “new” notebooks.

6. Create scribbling or drawing pad from used quiz pads, notebooks and art papers.

7. Check if last year’s set of uniforms, including shoes, still fits before getting your children new ones; have them altered or repaired if needed. Pass on outgrown uniforms to other kids.

8. Borrow textbooks and reference materials from friends or scour the second-hand bookshops to save on book expenses.

9. When buying new notebooks and paper supplies, choose those that are made of recycled paper.

10. Get rid of the plastic habit, cover notebooks, text books and exercise manuals with used magazines, newspapers or wall calendars.

11. Go for school supplies that can be reused, recycled, repaired or refilled to cut on waste, and “Buy Filipino” as much as possible.

12. Pay attention to product designs and labels, avoiding products that can be potentially hazardous to children.

13. Reduce the use of plastic bags by bringing a bayong or any reusable carry bag when you shop for back-to-school essentials.

14. To ensure better health and nutrition for your kids, choose only wholesome food such as homemade sandwiches, fresh fruits, boiled egg, or steamed saba, mais or camote. Avoid junk food at all times.

15. Pack your children’s snacks or lunches in reusable containers, not in single-use plastic wrappers or styrofoam. Avoid unnecessary packaging all the time.

16. Provide your children with a reusable napkin or facial towel; refrain from pampering them with disposable paper napkins or throw-away “wet towelletes.”

17. Get your kids durable water jugs and train them not to get hooked on bottled water and sugar-filled softdrinks and artificial juices in bottles, cans, foil or tetra packs.

18. Arrange car pool with your friends and neighbors to save on gas and reduce pollution; better still walk or bike with your child if possible.

All these may sound simple and doable. But that’s only true if we are willing. And willingness is not such a simple thing when we consider that buying new stuff for the school year opening is often associated with status symbols and keeping up with the Joneses. It should never be about what we can afford, is it? Rather, it is about doing the responsible thing. The difficult part is reconciling responsibility with the intention to impress.