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Let’s Talk Trash: School daze ahead

There are many low-to-zero-waste ways to approach the school bell while still stocking up on what we need

Whether you look forward to the leaves falling and seeing the kiddos off to their first day of school or not, both are inevitable. What isn’t, however, is how much trash we create as autumn unfolds.

Planning has its merits, even if the rewards aren’t immediate. One truth seems consistent, though. Less preparation often means more waste. Preparing for a return to the classroom doesn’t have to land us in the detention room for littering the planet.

Going through last year’s school supplies to remember what we already have is a good place to start. The end of the school year often comes with a blur of papers, rulers and backpacks getting stashed without much thought to the following year. You might end up passing along some items to friends or donating them to secondhand shops, keeping them in circulation.

Textbooks are sometimes available secondhand either at university bookstores or through school discussion forums. Other school supplies can be found used but in good condition at thrift stores or from family and friends when we don’t wait until the last minute rush to scoop them up. These are also great places to source new-to-you clothes for the new school year.

If buying new is unavoidable, going to stores with a list helps reduce spontaneous spending. Focus on buying quality. Rock bottom prices can mean rock bottom quality that will send you back to the store again soon.

A lot of our single-use footprint happens around food. We are in a rush and pick up that last-minute latte en route to dropping the kids off. We buy the prepacked snack food for lunches. We grab a vending machine drink on a break.

Most of this is avoidable with minimal forethought. Pack that reusable travel mug and get in the habit of rinsing it out before it becomes unopenable. Take the extra moment to portion out yogurt from a large container into snack sized ones, adding some fruit (bonus points for local) for even better nutrition.

Invest in some lightweight, sealable containers for lunches out of the house. Reusable cutlery kits are readily available these days, too, and are great to stash in various places so one is always nearby.

Our homes can also set us up for back-to-school success. Having a recycling system that matches the depot or curbside program makes it easier to convince the whole household to participate (remember that bags, styrofoam and glass go to depots, not in curbside bins.) Having everything in an easy-to-access-but-not-trip-over location is gold.

Getting everyone in the habit of putting lunch leftovers either back in the fridge or in a compost bucket also reduces waste and helps everyone be a part of reducing waste. Notice what isn’t getting eaten and have a conversation about why.

Have the kids involved in dropping off compost in your backyard bin or at one of the two town locations for the compost pilot program (Town Centre Recycling Depot and Sunshine Disposal and Recycling; check hours of operation before dropping off). Those fall leaves are a great addition to any backyard composter, as well, adding needed carbon to balance out nitrogen-rich food scraps.

There are many low-to-zero-waste ways to approach the school bell while still stocking up on what we need. Reduce your labour on Labour Day by prepacking your school bag with lightly used or waste-reducing items.

Let’s Talk Trash is qathet Regional District’s waste reduction education program. For more information, email or go to

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