Thursday, February 5, 2009

School fund raising makes me wanna scream

Last night, I went to the parent/teacher association meeting at my school. When I arrived there was a representative of a school fund raising organization giving her spiel. She had catalogs of candies, candles, wrapping paper and easy to grow seed bags and mats. With the exception of a couple of soy candles, there was nothing in these catalogs that even gave a hint that this company was trying to change their line of products to become a little more responsible ecologically. 

As I sat and listened to her talk about how their wrapping paper was the highest quality and the thickest, I searched through my sample catalog for any sign that perhaps this wrapping paper was made from recycled paper, but I didn't find it. I felt the blood drain from my face as she talked about all the prizes the kids could get for selling. Most kids will end up with cheesy plastic crap like beach balls the size of my palm because they won't sell more than one or two things.

Then she said something that made me want to stand up and scream. She said that the sales packets that the children would receive would come to the teachers in an eco-friendly reusable bag that they could keep. She threw the word "eco-friendly" out there like it made their company hip and responsible.

All the while, the president of the group kept asking us if we had any comments or questions. I had a ton of them, but I kept them to myself. Why? I don't regularly attend these meetings. It's not that I'm not involved with my kids' school. I am, but there are only so many meetings a week I can go to before I'm neglecting my family, and these meetings fall low on my priority list. However, next month, I am running the scholastic book fair, and I needed to be at the meeting to talk about it.

And there lies the reason I felt like I needed to keep my mouth shut. Is the book fair any less environmentally damaging than this fund raiser? My head was swirling during the meeting. I started mentally making a list to convince myself that the book fair was completely different than the other fundraiser.
  • It's books. Kids need books. Nobody needs overpriced chocolate bunnies made from low quality ingredients.
  • Books tend to have long lives. When you're done with them you give them to someone else or donate them somewhere. Wrapping paper just gets thrown out, usually without even being recycled.
  • Nobody is pressured to buy anything at the book fair. I completely ignore all of the "selling suggestions" that the company throws at me. I set up the book fair and let the kids come. We sell what we sell. With the catalog type fundraisers, grandparents, neighbors and co-workers usually feel pressured to buy something they don't really want.
  • It's books. Books are magic.
It's easy to come up with a list to justify the thing that I like while totally trashing the thing that I don't. But if I'm honest, there's a lot of environmental damage created to host these book fairs. First there's all the paper and inks used for the books. Then there's the shipping of the big cases of books to and from the school. Add the disposable plastic table cloths that are provided to decorate the fair (I've always kept them and re-used at least once before disposing of them), the piles of little crappy things that we're supposed to sell at the register like pens with fuzzy tips and erasers that look like dollar bills, and it's actually one big wasteful endeavor. 


I entertained the idea of standing up and saying, "I can't do this." But the fair is in six weeks. If I don't do it, someone else will. And if I were to bail at this late date, none of the good people in my small town would ever listen to me again. And they do listen. I know I have their ear on these issues. Many of them read this blog. I get questions about different things as I'm picking my kids up after school. 

So my conundrum is, how do I change this for future years? It's happening this year. But next year, what can I do? My first thought is to suggest a library-type book sale instead of the book fair. Have everyone in town donate books and sell used books. Store them - where I have no idea. 

If you have any bright ideas, feel free to post them.

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shihtzustaff said...

i would be wary of used books. Where I live we have a bed bug epidemic in the city and used books is one of the ways they are introduced into a new home.

I really appreciate that you show the good, the bad and the ugly about trying to be green. It is a breath of fresh air around this issue which seems to attract ideologues who think they know what is best and that it is really easy. You show how being more green is about compromise and about the little choices we make everyday. Keep up the good work!

GJK said...

Ooo. Bed bugs. Never occurred to me.

I was thinking I really liked the used book idea. But I'll think on it more . . .