Back to School Eco Tips

students and adults walking to school together
A walking school bus where neighbourhood students and adults walk to school together. Image taken prior to COVID-19.

It’s that time of year again where the end of August typically marks the end of summer vacation and the return to a routine. For those of you with kids, you may be hearing some groaning or at the other end of the spectrum, some excitement at the prospect of your kids seeing their friends again. For parents, there could be jubilation that the kids are back in school; a little sadness that their kids are growing up so fast; or dread over getting back into the routine of morning mayhem, packing lunches, etc.

It is safe to say that the return to school this year will not be a typical year. While there are many unknowns that are out of our control, please remember to continue taking action to help our local environment.

Getting to and from school

Girl walking to school
Image courtesy of Every Metre Counts (

If you live close enough to school – within 1.6 km for elementary students – bussing is not an option. You could choose to drive your child to school, which many parents do. Or, you could opt for a healthier option such as walking, cycling or rolling to school. Not only will you and your child be getting exercise, but it also offers a great opportunity to destress and have some great conversation.

If you must drive your child to school, consider parking your car a little further from school and walking the rest of the way. This will help minimize the pollutants that are emitted at the schools by all the vehicles.

In Burlington, if you pick your child up in your vehicle, please turn your engine off while you wait. If you idle unnecessarily for longer than a minute, you could receive a $120 ticket. Your car, pocketbook and children will thank you for turning your engine off.

Students holding a banner reminding everyone to turn their engines off while they wait. Image was taken prior to COVID-19.


Poster regarding tips for a waste-free school season
Image courtesy of Waste Reduction Week in Canada.

When packing lunches, consider waste-free lunches. While the snack size or individual packages might be convenient, they do generate a lot of garbage because often these packages can’t be recycled.

While there is a lot of signage at schools as to the proper bin to place one’s waste, I have seen it first-hand that many kids, like adults, throw their waste in the nearest bin. Or, they might be practicing wish-cycling assuming that the package must be recyclable.

Another great way to reduce waste is to provide your child with a reusable water bottle, rather than a single-use bottle. While water fountains at schools will be closed due to COVID-19 concerns, bottle refilling stations will remain open and regularly cleaned.

Additional tips for lunches, fashion and school supplies are available on Waste Reduction Week in Canada’s website.

Personal Protective Equipment

reusable face masks
Reusable face masks.

How many people, outside of medical professionals, knew of or used the term PPE (personal protective equipment) before COVID-19? With most students mandated to wear masks at schools, with certain exceptions, there is the potential for a lot of additional waste.

Consider using reusable masks. Remember to label your masks as there is the potential for a lot of misplaced masks. If your child does use single use masks, please ensure they are properly disposed of so that they don’t litter our environment.


Do you have additional back to school tips? Share them.

Take Action Burlington! Let’s make our back to school experience as environmentally friendly as possible. Collectively we can make a difference!

One thought on “Back to School Eco Tips

  1. A suggestion from a reader::

    Give your child a cloth napkin, or two, in their lunch box – when it is time to eat, open the napkin over the desk, place your lunch on it, then bundle everything back up and put it back in the lunch bag.

    Also direction from Halton District School Board’s official reopening plan:
    Food waste must return home with students. Similarly, staff should take home any food waste from their respective lunches/snacks. Green carts are only for paper towels. Recycling will be picked up as necessary.


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