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Tips for low-waste school shopping

School shopping is a ritual of sorts for every family come August. Parents, teens, and children all tend to enjoy the feeling of starting fresh. The good news is that you don’t have to fill a shopping cart with new products just to experience the feel-good buzz of a new year. Here are some tips for back-to-school shopping with a lower waste impact.

School supplies

School supplies can be overwhelming to purchase. Try to avoid making impulse purchases or purchasing supplies that end up not being needed or used.  Be sure to shop your own home first and go thru last year’s leftovers.

  • Put together sets of pens, pencils, colored pencils, markers or crayons from ones you have purchased in the past. You might be surprised how many haven’t been used or were barely used.
  • Repair and/or reuse three-ring binders, zipper binders and folders.
  • Bundle filler and graph paper from previous years to start out the school year.
  • Go through notebooks and composition notebooks and recycle used pages. If possible, have your child use up the notebooks before starting a new one. YouTube hosts several videos on “How to make a recycled notebook”, in as few of five steps!
  • Reuse items like calculators, rulers, scissors, that can be used over and over for several years.
  • Purchase durable backpacks, some even come with warrantees and guarantees. If your child’s backpack has damage that could use repair, stop by our free Fix-It Clinic to have our volunteer show you how to sew it back up.
  • Reuse lunch gear and water bottles from year to year. Buy durable, quality items that don’t have a theme your child will tire of.
    If your child has a locker, be sure to know its dimensions before purchasing anything. Locker sizes can even vary within a school, so bring your tape measure with before purchasing supplies.
  • Keep your tech storage all in one place at home.  Items many teen students need, such as extra USB drives and ear buds, can often be found at home before needing to purchase more.
  • If you need to buy new, look for recycled content in paper, pens and pencils, FSC-certified paper, and products with little to no packaging.
  • If you have leftover supplies from previous years that your child won’t need, ask the school if a student or teacher could use the supplies instead.

School clothes

School clothes are as much a part of back to school shopping as pens and pencils. Knowing today’s trends and purchasing habits of our kids can make it easy to reuse.

  • Shop thrift and used clothing stores in-store or online. Teens are all about reuse now and preferring to find a unique item to wear at school in all of the top brands at places like Plato’s Closet in Eden Prairie and Maple Grove.
  • Younger children may be picky about what they wear, but they really don’t care where it comes from. Many children’s clothing stores are located throughout Hennepin County. They are fun and colorful, so bring your picky dresser along for some fun at stores like The Kid’s Rack in Champlin or Once Upon A Child in several locations in Hennepin County. They also carry leotards for dance and gymnastics along with dance shoes for your ballerina!

Musical instruments

Musical instruments can also be quite the expense for a family, even though well worth the cost.

  • You can save a lot of money by using a music stores rent-to-own program so you can try out an instrument before you fully commit to a lifetime of playing it. Stores like Groth Music or A to G Music also have used instruments for sale.
  • Used musical instruments can also be found throughout used goods marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor.
  • Repair services are also important in keeping a musical instrument at its best. Repair shops are located at most music stores, or they can refer you to an individual who works on specific types of instruments.


Caring for their school supplies is one of many things you can teach your children so things last longer. Putting things neatly in a safe space like their backpack can reduce waste and prevent them from losing something important to them. Have a great school year!