Schools Need to Let Us Recycle School Supplies

school supplies

Every year it happens. The school supply list comes in. I take one look, and I groan. Is it any wonder parents end up spending some $72.5 billion (yes, BILLION) on back to school shopping every year? Recycling your school supplies is darn near impossible.

It's not that we don't have anything worth recycling. In the last few days of school, my 9-year-old daughter came home every day with a backpack full of the detritus that had accumulated in her desk and locker over the year.


Erasers halves. Stubby pencils. Plastic folders in various colors. 

Most, if not all, are used, but there's still life in them.

And yet, a quick survey of parents from various school districts uncovered the same problem: school supply lists often make demands that force parents to buy new school supplies

Some teachers want everything in sealed packages. Others call for certain brands over others. Many specify NEWLY sharpened pencils or specific sized erasers, packages of an exact number of glue sticks or wipes.

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And don't get me started on the teachers who require specific colored folders. While I understand that they probably have a plan to keep things uniform in the classroom (IE: everyone uses the blue folder for take-home work and the red folder for math), would it really hurt teachers in the same district to huddle up and agree on using the same colors year after year so we can reuse them? I have plastic folders (which are both more expensive and harder to come by) coming out my ears in every color of the rainbow because each year the supply list calls for a different hue!

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that it's my job as a parent to outfit my daughter for the school year, and I'll gladly do it. I know too that all too often teachers are reaching into their own pockets because districts don't stock their classrooms with all they need, and not every parent can do their share (and yes, there are those who can but just don't bother).

I don't expect the teacher to parent my kid. But I would appreciate a little leeway on the school supply list, and I know I'm not alone. 

Parents in America are as cash-strapped as ever. In 2013, a Gallup poll showed some 31 percent of single parent households struggle just to buy food (the figure is at around 19 percent for two-parent households, still a pretty significant portion of the the population). Some 2.3 million kids in America are living with unemployed parents who haven't had a job for 26 weeks or longer, putting them beyond the cut-off for benefits.

Frugality is a necessity for American parents. And doing what we can to stretch a dollar doesn't mean we're trying to short our kids.

If anything, the money I stand to save if I can recycle the glut of school supplies building up in her bedroom could be put into buying her nicer sneakers for gym class or stocking up on better quality lunchtime eats.

But first I need to convince the school to accept those stubby pencils ...

Do you recycle school supplies? How much do you end up spending on your back to school shopping?


Image via © Jamie Grill/Tetra Images/Corbis

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