Back to school

  • Work out what you need and already have.
  • Not everything has to be new.
  • Think about the quality and the impact of your purchases.
  • Add in more active choices for getting to school like walking and cycling.
  • Invest in reusable containers and drink bottles to avoid plastic waste.
  • Check with your state or territory education department to see if help with education-related costs is available.


School supplies

  • Make a list—stick to it.
  • Look for products that are re-usable or contain recycled content, especially paper products.
  • Choose items with minimal packaging and buy in bulk where you can to reduce packaging and cost.
  • Buy durable items that last longer—some cheaper options may not last as long.
  • Choose non-toxic and natural products when you can—like water-soluble glue or water-based paints rather than acrylic paints.
  • Label items to avoid losing them.

Paper and books

  • Reduce paper waste to conserve natural resources like trees and the water used to make paper.
  • Print only when you need to.
  • Re-use paper by writing or printing on both sides of the paper, or for artwork.
  • Recycle your paper and cardboard, either at home or at school.
  • Buy recycled paper and notebooks, or items from sustainably managed sources.
  • Find out if your school has a second-hand textbook scheme.

School uniforms

  • Choose durable clothes for everyday school wear that will last.
  • Donate school clothes that aren't being worn anymore.
  • Set up a hand-me-down system with other families in your area.
  • Find out if your school has a uniform clothing pool or second-hand shop.

Bags and backpacks

  • Look for a durable, hard wearing bag or backpack.
  • Look for packs made from recycled material or natural material such as hemp.
  • Consider backpacks with compartments to help distribute the weight of the contents.
  • Pack the heaviest things in first. The closer they are to your child's back, the less strain they'll put on their body.

School travel

  • In most states, nearly 50% of all school children travel to school by car.
  • If you measure the distance of your commute to school most of these trips are less than 3 kilometres. This is an ideal distance for walking or cycling.
  • Walking or cycling to school saves on fuel. It also contributes to the recommended 60 minutes exercise children need each day.
  • If your children are at primary school and you live within walking distance, see if your school has a ‘walking school bus’.
  • If your school doesn't operate a walking school bus, consider starting your own with other parents.
  • Look out for and participate in the annual Walk Safely to School Day which takes place throughout Australia.
  • Cycling to school is also a cost-effective means of transport that reduces pollution— talk to your school about participating in the national Ride2School program.
  • If you can't ride or walk, public transport is more efficient and has lower costs than individual car travel.
  • Carpooling can also help you to cut your car costs and reduce traffic at peak times.
  • Make sure children are aware of safety issues. Give them safety tips so they know how to stick to the road rules.

School travel resources

ACT Ride or walk to school Physical Activity Foundation

NSW Active Travel to School NSW Government

NT Darwin Safe &  Active Routes to School Toolkit (PDF 1.7MB) Northern Territory Government

Qld School travel options Queensland Government

SA Way2Go Government of South Australia

Tas Travelling to school safely Tasmanian Government

Vic Walk to School Victoria Walks

Computers and phones

  • When you leave your computer for a short while, turn off the screen to reduce power consumption.
  • Use automatic power down. These put computers into a sleep mode or turn them off after a period of inactivity.
  • Turn your computer off at the wall when not in use for a long time, especially overnight.
  • Turn on your printer only when it is needed.
  • If you have an unwanted working computer, donate it to a friend or charity.
  • Drop off unwanted TVs, computers and computer products at recycling services. Find places participating in the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou and TechCollect list recycling organisations recycling by location.
  • Recycle used or empty toner/ink cartridges at participating retailers including Australia Post. Search Cartridges 4 Planet Ark for drop-off points in your area.
  • If you are buying a phone for your child, the e-safety office has a guide on what to consider.
  • The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has 10 privacy tips for parents and carers. They will help you and your children protect their privacy when they interact online.


  • There are simple things you can do to avoid food waste and cut down on packaging.
  • Avoid packing lunches in multiple plastic bags or plastic zip-lock bags which get thrown away.
  • Choose alternatives to plastic lunch wraps like canvas or organic cotton lunch bags and wraps that are PVC-free.
  • Look for a durable lunchbox with separate sections for different food items, eliminating the need for individual wrapping.
  • Investigate the 'cooler' lunch bags which can keep food chilled for up to 8 hours.
  • Avoid the cost and waste of single serve snacks by buying in bulk and packing in re-usable containers. 
  • Healthy food and drink choices in lunchboxes can fuel kids with the right energy. This helps them concentrate, learn and play at school.
  • Get kids involved in choosing their lunch and mix it up.  They’ll be more likely to eat it and less likely to toss it out too.
  • Many schools have a composting system they can use. If not, get kids to bring home any food scraps to compost.
  • Disposable juice packs are an easy choice for lunches. Think about the larger costs they have for both your budget and the environment.
  • In the long run, all those juice boxes will cost a lot more than a reusable drink bottle.
  • Freeze a drink bottle the night before. Use it like an icepack to keep lunch fresh during the day.

Healthy school lunch resources

Wellbeing Plan for Kids CSIRO

Healthy Lunch Box Cancer Council

ACT Healthy food at school ACT Government

NSW Healthy school lunch box planner, NSW Government

Vic Healthy school lunches, Government of Victoria

In the classroom

There are many ways schools can get involved to act to save money, energy and water: Audits can help you to see what is currently happening. They can identify what to do next to save. For example a

  • waste audit to bring in composting and recycling bins, starting a worm farm or an edible garden.
  • energy audit to establish good habits like turning equipment off when not in use.
  • water audit to put signs above taps and bubblers or install rainwater tanks or greywater systems.

Most states and territories have a range of energy, water, waste and biodiversity programs. They can provide practical support to help schools become more sustainable.

Read more

RecyclingNearYou Planet Ark

E-waste recycling TechCollect

Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program

Wellbeing Plan for Kids CSIRO

ACT Actsmart Schools program ACT Government

NSW Education resources NSW Government

NT Eco-Schools Australia Keep Australia Beautiful

Qld Queensland Sustainable Schools Queensland Government

SA Sustainable Schools Initiative Government of South Australia

Tas Resources for Schools EPA Tasmania

Vic Creating sustainable Victorian schools Government of Victoria

WA Sustainable Schools WA Government of Western Australia