The end of Summer Holidays is approaching and with it also comes the moment to think about school supplies for the new year ahead.
We can see your kid’s excitement and your satisfaction from seeing all those new pens, pencils, binders and notebooks neatly organised and ready to accompany them in many more learning adventures!
But how big is the impact on the environment’s resources and pollution of all those new school supplies? If you are reading this blog, you have probably asked yourself already so we did some research on how you can make your kids’ “back to school” (and even your “back to the office”!) purchases as much sustainable as possible!
TO CONSIDER BEFORE SHOPPING
The first step will be to do an audit of what you already have in your home and is lying forgotten on the bottom of some drawers or backpacks. It can be a fun activity for your kids too if you make it sound like a treasure hunt with a small prize for whoever find the most pencils, pens, half written notebooks…
Remember, the most sustainable item is what you already have and fully using what you bought last year will also save you a lot of money!
When you have gathered everything together, you can make a list of what you really need to buy but before storming off to fill your trolley, have a look at some more sustainable and cheaper places here below:
First of all, for things like backpacks, pencil cases or calculators, look online on Facebook Marketplace or Zero Waste groups as you’ll find many options to buy or get for free almost new second-hand items that would otherwise end into the landfill.
If you are buying new, look for natural materials such as wood, recycled paper, stainless steel metal, cotton and bamboo, which grows quickly on a large scale with no pesticides and very little water.
Furthermore, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification as these products have been independently certified as being made from materials sourced through sustainable forestry practices.
Avoid anything that is made from virgin plastic and prefer recycled plastic instead if a natural material is not available and choose high quality items as they’re less likely to break down after few months (especially for backpacks).
Lastly, don’t overbuy. Pencils and pens often come in packs of 10 but does your child really need 10 pencils to go through a year? Check if you can purchase them individually, so you can buy exactly the quantity you need and avoid the plastic packaging they come with.
BACKPACK AND PENCIL CASES
We grouped them together as they are often made from similar petroleum-based fabrics with the intention to make them last longer. Unfortunately, these materials are not eco-friendly at all in terms of the emissions created to be made and their non-degradability at the end of their life.
The best options here are to go second hand or to choose products made from recycled plastic, usually recycled PET bottles or plastic saved from the oceans.
Our favourite is the Australian social enterprise Beekeeper Parade which offers cool and functional backpacks, bold colours pencil cases and many more small goods made from upcycled scrap and left-over fabrics. The profits are funding vital school building to bring quality education to the doorsteps of children in rural Cambodia.
You can find many options over at Patagonia while Flip & Tumble offers a 100% recycled backpack that rolls up into its own built-in pouch for easy portability and even Officeworks has a backpack made from 15 recycled PET bottles.
You can also just search “Recycled backpacks” on Google or Amazon and you’ll have plenty of alternatives, from cute little kids’ ones to more grown-up versions.
Ready to meet what we think is the most amazing sustainable writing instrument ever? Sprout Pencils are made from sustainably sourced wood, and they can grow into plants like luscious flowers, fragrant herbs and fresh vegetables once they’re too short to use. They are 100% natural, non-toxic and they are made with 10 different non-GMO seeds’ placed in a small capsule replacing the usual rubber top. The eight-pack of coloured Sprout pencils is just perfect for primary school kids’ back-to-school and they’ll even make for a fun gardening activity together!
If you prefer an alternative to wood pencils, there are many brands on Amazon selling pencils made from 10%% recycled newspaper and completely tree-free.
One last very cool option is the Infinity Pencil, a tree-Friendly pencil which super compressed tip replaces 100 wood pencils. It’s also erasable and the tip can be replaced to further prevent climate-changing deforestation.
To make it the perfect duo, you can pair your new sustainable writing instrument with the all-natural eraser from Tombow Mono, made from rubber latex (to erase pencils) and natural silica (to erase ink).
For the more craft kids and the youngest ones, consider swapping traditional petroleum-based crayons for Honeystick Beeswax Crayons handmade in New Zealand from 100% Natural and non-toxic food grade ingredients to unleash their creativity in a completely natural and safe way. These 100% plastic free crayons are larger than traditional crayons and therefore more comfortable to use and their non-toxic colourants means they are very easy to clean.
NOTEBOOKS & FILING
The obvious choice here would be for binders, notebook and manila folders made from recycled paper and BuyEcoGreen has an excellent range of sustainable office and school supplies. Remember to also include paper dividers for your binders (instead of the plastic ones) and to avoid spirals notebook as they can't be reused like binders and are not plastic free like standard notebooks.
However, since even recycled cardboard binders without replaceable covers are considered “mixed materials waste” and are destined for landfill, we thought to mention the very cool zero waste binder kit from Wisdom Supply Co, a small women-owned B-Corp company. The pre-perforated covers and binder mechanism kit will require 2 minutes to assemble and is intended to highlight the reparability of the product, as well as to spur thought about waste and product design.
After we have covered the main categories to make your kids’ back-to-school time more sustainable, here’s a list of miscellaneous stationery items that can still make a positive impact on their supplies.
- Non-Toxic glue stick: prefer a biodegradable plant-based starch glue stick. Here’s an example available at
- Corn Plastic calculator: MoMa offers an eco-friendlier calculator which is also solar powdered and made from 100% biodegradable corn plastic. Its big keys make it perfect for younger kids who just started learning their math.
- Bamboo geometry set: swap plastic rulers for a set made from bamboo which includes all the essentials like a ruler, protractor, triangles, compass and much more and comes in a trendy bamboo box.
- Staples stapler: if a stapler is really needed, check out the mesmerizing PLUS Paper Clinch. Using a unique inter-folding process, this stapler fastens up to 10 sheets of paper without using any staples! It’s portable, kid safe and requires minimal force. Unfortunately, the body is made of plastic but at least you’ll save the staples (and make it safer to use too).
Let’s not forget about your kids’ lunch! There are several small yet powerful changes you can make to make their lunch-to-go zero waste and more sustainable.
First of all, make sure to pack only what your kids need for the day to avoid any food waste. If they don’t manage to finish everything, it’s important to teach them how to recycle and compost. If you don’t have a compost bin at home don’t despair, more and more schools have started composting food too for their veggies garden.
When it comes to packing their lunch, choose a lunch box that is BPA and PVC free to avoid any chemical being in contact with their food. A good option are stainless steel or glass lunch boxes with a bamboo lid.
If you have to pack sandwiches separately, consider wrapping them in beeswax food wraps, which can be washed and reused for up to a year, instead of using plastic cling wrap. These gorgeous wraps can also be folded into a pouch to pack a healthy nuts-based snack.
If you do prefer to stick to cling wrap because you might be worried the beeswax wrap might get lost, opt for a home compostable version that can be easily thrown in your (or school’s) green waste bin.
Remember to pack a stainless-steel water bottle (healthier than plastic ones), reusable bamboo cutlery and a cloth napkin and your kid will be the eco-champion of his class!
If all these changes seem a lot, remember that kids are sponges and they are probably already learning about the environment since kindergarten, so you’re very likely to get their full support in making more responsible choices and swap for eco-friendly school supplies!