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A Budget-Friendly Student Guide to a Sustainable Back-to-School Season

As back-to-school season arrives, many students prepare for the customary annual shopping frenzy. While the lists of school supplies may seem endless, they also contribute to a significant amount of waste. From clothing items made by fast fashion brands to stacks of new textbooks and plastic school supplies, the typical back-to-school essentials create unnecessary landfill waste. But with simple steps, we can reduce the ecological impact caused by back-to-school shopping and make sustainable choices - even if we're on a tight budget.


Whether you are a college student who is moving away from home or a parent preparing your child for the new academic year, here are some tips and tricks to help you reduce waste and save money.

Photo by George Pak from Pexels

Consider the “R”s in Your Back-to-School List

Before you head out to the store, think about the "R"s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Start by reducing the quantity of your purchases. Avoid impulse buying and think about whether you really need the item before you add it to your shopping cart. By reducing your consumption, you can significantly reduce the waste produced from your back-to-school shopping. Next, check for what items you already have and can reuse from previous years. This way you can eliminate any unnecessary waste production. Once you have gone through these two steps, take a look at your list again and see if you can source the items you need to buy sustainably - the best option would be to buy them secondhand. Otherwise, opt for pencils made from sustainably sourced wood, notebooks made from recycled paper, and ethical, sustainable, recycled backpacks. These items may take a little more research to find, but they are well worth the effort and are cost-effective in the long run.

Photo by George Pak from Pexels

Swap Clothes With Friends

A sustainable alternative to shopping for new back-to-school clothes is to organize a clothes swap with your friends. Set up a date and time when everyone can bring over clothes that no longer fit, that they no longer need, or that they want to trade. This way, you can acquire new clothes without spending any money or contributing to landfill waste. You can make the clothes swapping fun and enjoy a new wardrobe without ever having to visit a store.

Shop Secondhand

So, picture this: You've got an essential item on your list that you can't borrow or trade, but your wallet's feeling a bit shy. Enter the secondhand stores – those magical treasure troves brimming with stories waiting to be retold.


Going secondhand is the ultimate move for any budget-conscious, eco-savvy student. It saves money, reduces waste, offers unique finds, and is filled with the thrill of the hunt. Ready to embark on your secondhand journey? Look beyond what an item is and imagine what it could become with a little DIY magic. Gently used is the goal, but don't be afraid to inspect items for wear and tear. Remember that second hand stores offer more than clothes – explore furniture, home decor, and even books. The perfect find might not reveal itself immediately, but give it time and enjoy the adventure. Blend secondhand treasures with new items for a fashion-forward, eclectic look. Facebook Marketplace, your local thrift stores, and flea/vintage markets are all great places to start.


Consider Buying Refurbished Electronics

Extending on secondhand shopping, electronic devices are expensive but essential for modern education. Purchasing refurbished electronics saves money and reduces electronic waste, you will be surprised what you can find! If you are going to buy refurbished electronics, make sure you're buying from a reputable source by doing your research in advance.


By weaving these tips into your back-to-school routine, you're not just following the trend – you're breaking free from our consumer-driven culture. This shift allows you to shrink your carbon footprint, pad your wallet, and bask in the satisfaction of being a planetary hero. As we tread through the school year, let's keep nurturing these sustainable choices, and challenging our consume-and-dispose culture.


Written By: Elaine Zhou

Published By: Lily Trinh

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