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Can School Uniforms Be Eco Friendly?

Can School Uniforms Be Eco Friendly?

Kids in some areas are heading back to school already. Mine have about a week left until school starts, so it’s uniform shopping time. My kids warned me at the end of the last school year that they would need new this year, as both were outgrowing what they have now. They thought I would start shopping right away, but no way. I waited because there’s no point in risking a summer growth spurt.

The problem with school uniforms is that you have to buy particular fabrics. My kids’ school actually specified a particular polyester/cotton mix on the pants at first just to make sure parents really understood that they’re serious about the no denim, corduroy, etc. rule. They did clarify it when parents protested that ruling on the exact mix (60/40) was overkill. Still, it brings up the point – can your child’s school uniform be eco friendly?

School Uniform Advantages

School uniforms do have some advantages, environmentally speaking, even if they aren’t made from ideal fabrics. You don’t have to buy a lot of school uniforms, just enough for your kids to wash between wearings. Yes, I make my kids wash their own uniforms; it’s good laundry practice. Buying a few uniforms plus clothes for weekends and holidays can save a lot of money and reduce your children’s overall wardrobe needs.

Schools can also hold used uniform sales, which allows you to keep things even more eco friendly. You can buy uniforms previously owned by other students for less money, rather than spending on new ones. Our school has parents donate used uniforms and uses the sale as a PTA fundraiser.

And of course if you have more than one child you can have them hand uniforms down. I don’t do this between my son and daughter – the difference between girl and boy clothes would make them too self conscious, even though the differences in the uniforms is pretty small. My daughter’s uniforms sometimes get passed on to a friend, but only if they survive my daughter’s not so gentle use. I like handing them down directly rather than going through the school’s sale because I know a few friends have really tight financial situations.

School Uniform Disadvantages

The only eco disadvantage I can think of for school uniforms is the material. Can’t really get away from polyester when it’s mandated in the dress code.

Think About Where You Shop

If you’re buying new school uniforms, think about where you’re buying them. Look for stores that pay attention to the condition workers have when making clothes for their company. Pay attention to clothing quality so you won’t have to replace clothes that wear out too quickly.

Land’s End, for example, has sustainability programs in place, and has a list of how they comply with their Global Compliance Program to avoid using child labor, slave labor, etc. JC Penney does as well.  Justice/Brothers (Tween Brands) also lists how they maintain supply chain transparency.  These are the ones I’ve peeked at so far. A part of what each of these companies list on their sites is required by the State of California, and what I don’t know yet is how effective these are. After all, even Walmart states they have a focus on global responsibility.

Give Your College Students a Green Start

As kids get older and further along in school, they need more supplies. Mine are in elementary school, with one homeschooling, and so don’t need much in the way of supplies this year. That’s not going to last. Kids in high school and college in particular need more supplies.

Laptop Computer

Older kids and young adults are often best served by having their own computer, especially if they’re going to college away from home. It’s a big advantage to not need to use the library computers or wait for the family computer to be available.

Laptop computers use much less energy than desktop computers. Look for Energy Star certified laptops to find the most efficient models. Also pick Energy Star printers and other accessories the laptop may need.


What student of any age gets by without a backpack? Most students carry them, and too often only use them for a year if you don’t pay attention to quality.

Buying a good quality backpack with the goal of using it for more than one year is a good green step. Look for backpacks made from recycled or organic materials.

Eco Friendly Writing Supplies

Look around for eco friendly writing supplies. There are a few brands that make eco friendly pens and pencils.

Get a Bike

Once kids are old enough, encourage them to bike or walk to school. Same for college students. Not only will they save on gas, but biking to college classes rather than driving means not having to buy a parking permit. You may need to rent a bike locker for storage, however.

Buy Dorm Decorations Used and Locally

When kids go off to college, there’s a huge temptation to ship them off with a ton of supplies to decorate and otherwise set up their rooms. Better is to help them buy dorm room supplies locally, used if you can find thrift shops in the area.

This can be a hard sell, as there are usually roommates to deal with, and no student wants to look like they can only afford thrift store stuff. But sometimes you can find things that no one will know came from the thrift store, which can help to soothe your college student’s needs.

Besides, there’s almost a tradition of college students decorating with some really odd stuff. Thrift stores can help you get a start on that.

Mini Fridge

The mini fridge is a classic feature of the dorm room. It’s great if a shared one can be negotiated with roommates, but that often leads to battles over whose food is whose, and so many students just prefer to keep their own.

Once again, go for Energy Star.

Cooking Gear

Having a fridge means there’s going to be some cooking going on in that dorm room, at least in a microwave. Microwave cooking isn’t the healthiest of ways to go, but dorms usually limit what can be used in the rooms.

Dishes and other supplies for cooking the food in are a great target for the thrift stores. You don’t need anything fancy for dorm room food.


Make sure your student knows how to do laundry when he or she goes away to college. Otherwise they’re either going to suffer in the laundry room or keep hauling it home, which isn’t very efficient.

Encourage your student to use eco friendly laundry detergents such as Country Save, Method or Biokleen.

Care Packages

It’s always fun to send a care package to your student a few weeks in. Find out what your student needs, and send along eco friendly versions, along with some fun treats.