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Back to class green guide: solar chargers, recycled packs & more

Image of backpack and tablet computer
The start of the school year can be a great time to create new habits. As you shop, consider purchases that are more sustainable.

Fun and earth-friendly ideas, from pens & laptops to a bike-powered USB charger

Summer has wound down, and for many of you — or for your kids — that means it's time to get back to class.

Back-to-school also means another thing — back-to-school shopping. Some can't wait to hit the malls and revel in the idea of shiny new school supplies, a backpack and snazzy pair of shoes. For others, back-to-school shopping is a cringe-worthy activity featuring crowded department stores, hectic parking lots, and unhappy kids that hate the constant reminders that lazy summer days are done.

The start of a new school year is a chance to start fresh and create new habits. We've compiled this back-to-class green guide to highlight some helpful tips and cool new products to help make this school year the most green and energy-efficient yet.

Gear up with green supplies

Even if the students in your family lean digital these days, such as using laptops and tablets for student assignments, basic stationery is still a necessary part of back-to-school shopping for most of us.

To make this school year more green, opt for products made from recycled materials where possible. From pens, pencils, notebooks and loose-leaf paper, many manufacturers offer products that are more environmentally-friendly and some even have entire green product lines, such as the re:thINK line from Paper Mate, which is made up of products derived from recycled materials.

A cool new product from Livescribe can change the way you take notes. The innovative Livescribe 3 Smartpen uses Bluetooth Smart technology and will send everything you write to your smartphone or tablet — giving you a backup electronic copy in case you lose your notebook.

If you're in the market for new electronics for yourself or your child for the new school year, look for products with the ENERGY STAR® label. These products will be the most energy-efficient.

Laptops or desktops labelled with the ENERGY STAR symbol use between 30 and 60 per cent less energy than conventional models, depending on how they are used, so they're an especially great option if you have avid gamers in the family. A laptop is a more energy-efficient option over a desktop.

And consider the size of your monitor. A 17-inch monitor uses 30 per cent more energy than a 15-inch monitor.

If you do purchase a new laptop, desktop or other device for the new school year, make sure to recycle any old or unused electronics at a Return-it-Depot. You'll save energy and clear up the clutter (leaving lots of room for homework).

Tote-ly awesome backpacks that are good for your back and the planet

Now that you've got your supplies, you'll need a well-designed, durable backpack to tote them back and forth from class and home. While comfort and proper fit should certainly be the top priority when shopping for a new pack, bags made with recycled materials like those by TIMBUK2 can provide the comfort your child needs while also being 'green'. The fabric and liners of these bags are made from 100% recycled PET yarn from plastic bottles.

If you're looking for something that's a little less ordinary, check out a solar powered backpack. This energy-efficient book-toting option can charge electronics on-the-go — no more waiting for your phone to juice up before you get out the door. Plus it will help decrease your home electricity use since you won't be plugging in your devices to charge them as often.

Getting a proper fit is important to ensure your new backpack is comfortable and not going to cause any back or shoulder issues.

Wake up on time

There's nothing worse than waking up in a panic realizing you've slept through your alarm, or perhaps forgot to set it altogether.

Avoid the stress with a reliable, energy-efficient alarm clock, like The Drop Bedol. This innovative little clock will hopefully make waking in the morning a little more fun. It runs completely on water power — no batteries or electricity required. Simply fill it up with tap water and it converts water ions into clean energy power.

A solar-powered alarm clock is another energy-efficient option that helps to cut down on your home's electricity use. The Solar Powered Radio Controlled Atomic alarm clock by Timex has a built-in solar cell and rechargeable battery, plus it even sets itself.

Walk, take transit or bike

A new school year is a great time to create a new routine. Making a small change like opting to walk or bike to school instead of going by car is not only good for the environment but a healthier choice too. With the increase in traffic on our roadways as everyone gets back to work and school after summer holidays, not having to rely on a car to get around can also alleviate a lot of headaches during the morning rush.

Biking to school or work can also serve a dual purpose with The Atom by Siva Cycle, a handy attachment that fits on your bike's rear wheel axle and turns the momentum of your ride into reliable USB power. The removable battery pack then allows you to take the power with you so you can charge your devices once you arrive at your destination.

Live too far from school? Taking transit is your next best bet.

Limit throwaways at lunchtime

Lunchtime — the best part of the day. Packing lunch from home is a much more affordable option than doing take-out. When making lunches, opt for reusable containers rather than plastic bags, and foil and skip the brown bag. A durable, re-usable lunch bag is much better option.

Limit processed and packaged snacks as much as possible. Choosing real, whole foods is much healthier, plus less packaging means less waste for the landfill.