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The thing about American shopping rituals is that they get bigger and bigger and BIGGER with each passing year. Christmas is an obvious carbon culprit, but back-to-school shopping is a startling example, as well. A modest tradition that once amounted, for most families, to a new pair of shoes and maybe one outfit for the first day of school, has ballooned into what many retailers consider the second largest holiday shopping season next to Christmas.

One way to go green this fall is to have a family meeting and take a hard look at the impact behind the tradition of loading up on new stuff for September, just because...it's September. Helping kids learn the difference between things we need and things we want, and even trickier, the difference between real love and material goods, is tough. Very tough. After all, everybody goes back-to-school shopping! And that, for the planet, is the problem. Knowing the real impact of binge shopping can help ignite a spirit of activism and conscious resistance in kids.

How big is the impact? Huge, and growing. The average household's back to school spending for 2008 is expected to rise to almost $594.24 compared to $563.49 last year. This year, one-fifth of parents nationwide have set aside a portion of their stimulus check for back-to-school purchases, according to the National Retail Federation's 2008 Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.Total back-to-school spending for Kindergarten through 12th grade this year is estimated to reach $20.1 billion.

The fastest rising category of all this spending is not clothes or school supplies, but electronics--not just calculators and computers, either, but cell phones and MP3 players, too. This year, parents will spend $151.61 on electronics purchases during the back-to-school time frame, up from $129.24 last year. Meanwhile, our electronic waste is wreaking havoc in third-world countries, especially China, where in some areas the groundwater has become too contaminated to be drink.

Because of tight times, many parents are expected to hit discount stores in order to stretch their back-to-school dollar.

"This year's back-to-school shopper is a bargain hunter at the core," said Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy at BIGresearch, the firm that conducted the Retail Federation?s research. "Though parents want to make sure kids are fully prepared for school, they will be comparing prices online and in stores before making any big purchases."

If only thrift stores and clothing exchanges were included in those comparisons!

Love green gadgets, fashion, and news? Get the latest from Planet Green's dynamic duo Suchin Pak and Daniel Sieberg on the G Word.