The beginning of the school year is a hectic time for parents and students alike. Between school lunches, carpools, playdates, and more, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos. And for many parents this often means purchasing whatever school supplies are easy at the store – which are usually plastic, and single-use, items that cannot be recycled after they’re used up. From pens to pencils, backpacks to notebooks, switching to ethical school supplies can make a huge difference.. And teach your child about sustainability! Read on to learn more about how to make this school year a lot less wasteful.
What You’ll Learn:
- Why sustainable school supplies make such a positive impact compared to conventional supplies
- Several options for every age of student
- Brands and products to explore for going back to school sustainably
Sustainable Back to School Supplies
Each August, parents and students alike receive one equally exciting and nerve wracking piece of mail: the annual school supply list. This simple piece of paper has some seriously unsustainable requests–encouraging every student and teacher to buy totally new pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, and cleaning supplies each and every year. While this may not seem impactful, when you multiply it by the 50.7 million students that attended public elementary and secondary school last year… and factor in the teachers, college, homeschooled, and private school students… that’s hundreds of thousands of pounds of school supplies, most of which will be used for just one year before being thrown away.
But school doesn’t have to be unsustainable. From school supplies to backpacks and notebooks, and even that first day of school outfit, we’ve got everything you need to go back to school smarter. Want to learn how to pack a zero waste lunch? Check that out, here!
Starting sustainably: Babies + Preschoolers
We believe one of the greatest lessons you can teach a child is how to live consciously, sustainably, and ethically. And what better time to start teaching than when they’re learning how to learn! Now, you’re probably thinking… what kind of school supplies can a baby or toddler use? The answer is: atypical ones. There’s tons of ways to encourage motor skills and growth in your little one without needing to know the ABC’s and 123’s! By starting early, you’re setting them up for success during the 12+ years to come.
It might not be rocket science, but working with simple shapes is one of the best ways to encourage hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and colors and shape recognition that’s needed for future learning! Each uniquely colorful shape slides into the various cut-outs along the top and bottom, which can be opened with a simple twist for hours of playtime. Sized for small hands (and small mouths!), your little one can get a headstart on the basics of learning, before they even leave for school. The best part? This Shape Sorter by Green Toys is made with 100% recycled plastic, made without BPAs, PVCs, or phthalates–and totally FDA Food Contact approved, so you can have all the fun, with none of the added chemicals.
Your classic LEGOs meet plant-based plastics meets learning letters in this innovative building block. Created from the minds of Netherland toy company, BiOBUDDi, these bioplastic building blocks (and stickers!) are made from sugarcane resin–not non-renewable resources. Colorful shapes, letters, and animals stimulates creativity and imagination in your little one, while the process of using the building blocks develops good spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. Plus, they’re a heck-of-a lotta’ fun. We may or may not have tried them ourselves.
In just a few short years, your baby will be headed to elementary school, where they’ll begin to learn to read on their own. But, studies show that it’s never too early to start reading to your little one–soothing them with the sound of your voice, and exposing them to new words, tones, and inflections! We love Green Kids Club books because they do all of that, while diving into important (and fun!) environmental lessons, all printed on Chain of Custody Certified Sustainably Harvested paper. From learning about our coral reefs to tackling sea ice loss, these books are perfect to start educating your little one, from day one.
Out and about: Elementary + Middle Schoolers
Learning to read, write, and count is a huge part of any young person’s life–and being armed with the tools for success is essential. From the right pens, pencils, highlighters, and craft supplies, to a backpack to hold it all, we’re breaking down our favorite sustainably made school supplies for elementary and middle schoolers below!
Fact: In the United States, 79 million students and teachers carry backpacks. Of that 79 million, most haul over 10-22% of their body weight. In human terms: Ouch. United by Blue knows that your little one shouldn’t be weighed down, so they created the Whittier Backpack with padded straps for added comfort. Made from 100% Repreve recycled polyester, with a durable water repellent finish to resist moisture and stains, this bag is perfectly sized for smaller students. It’s adjustable straps reduce straining and pressure on the spine, with an exterior zipper pocket for quickly grabbing pens or pencils.
From book reports, to school projects, to big exams, taking notes is going to be a big part of any time at elementary to middle school. This kit has everything they’ll need: two 50-packs of index cards from sustainably harvested bamboo paper, four assorted color highlighters, and two bamboo gel pens. The highlighters are great for studying and keeping organized, and they’re packaged in recycled plastic!
Who doesn’t love coloring? Trick question–everyone loves coloring. But have you ever seen a colored pencil that’s been almost all the way used? Neither have we. This is because, for whatever reason, colored pencils seem to vanish into thin air when they get halfway used. And with most classic pencils being made from raw wood, this leads to a ton of waste, and deforestation to create the pencils. That’s why Onyx and Green decided to use recycled newspaper–not trees, to make their 24 pack of assorted color pencils. From crafting to color-coding notes these sustainably made pencils are the essential school supply for any family.
Your kid has a tri-fold poster board project due tomorrow at 8am… and a very blank canvas. Don’t panic: just pull out your craft kit! This curated kit contains a 24 pack of recycled newspaper colored pencils (read why we love these above!), two recycled PET plastic permanent markers for labeling + outlining, plus liquid glue and scissors for cutting and pasting graphics–aka everything you’ll need for an A+ project. The liquid glue is made from plants, not… whatever normal glue is made of (does anyone know?), while the scissors use the power of recycled plastics.
Fun fact: Tired of dried out permanent markers? Take some rubbing alcohol into a small dish, soak the tip of the marker until ink begins to leak out, then put the cap back on for 15 minutes and leave it alone. This is perfect for the recycled plastic markers in our kit, or any permanent marker out there.
Off to the real world: High School + College Students
High school and college are some of the best years of any young person’s life–but can also be some of the most disorganized. From running from class to class, prepping college essays, getting ready for dorm life, and navigating what the heck you want to major in, sometimes there’s not always time to shop for school supplies (we totally understand!) That’s why we’ve narrowed it down to just the essentials–all wrapped up in a upcycled, waterproof backpack that’s as tough as their first college exam.
Notebook? Check. Pens and pencils? Check. Instant ramen noodles? Check. Any high school or college student is gonna need the essentials: two bamboo ballpoint pens, one 3 subject sugarcane paper notebook, and four assorted color gel highlighters from recycled plastic. During the 8 years (or more) spent in high school and college, you’re going to need a ton of notebook paper–which is why we love sustainably harvested sugarcane paper, made from sugarcane pulp, instead of resource intensive trees.
Staying organized is the key to success… but if you use a traditional paper planner every single year, it can lead to a ton of paper waste. That’s why we love recycled planners, made from a 100% recycled paper interior, printed with solar power, and made with wind power from tree-free greeting’s local American factory. This journal contains 160 smooth, easy-to-write pages–so keeping track of classes, tests, and other important dates is a breeze.
One of the biggest changes from high-school to college is being able to bring your own laptop for note taking, research, and playing solitaire when the professor is turned away (duh). But with running from class to class, your laptop is at high-risk. Start with a good laptop bag, then reinforce with this beautiful Walnut Laptop Skin. Made from sustainably harvested, FSC Certified walnut wood, every purchase of this durable case donates to planting trees in Brazil!
Now that you have our college and high school essentials, you’re gonna need a bag to put it all in–one that can take you from the classroom to a study party and beyond. Our go-to is Alchemy Goods, because they’re made from one of the most durable, college-kid-proof materials out there–bike tires. Made from 74% recycled and upcycled materials, this commuter bag has a padded 13” laptop compartment for on the go, plus padded straps for maximum comfort. Our favorite part? It’s unlike any other backpack we’ve ever seen before, making you turn heads wherever you wander.
The heroes: Educators + Professionals
You’ve walked across that stage, collected the diploma, and set off for your post-education life. But, whether you come back to the world of education, or dive headfirst into the world of business, you’re still going to need school supplies. They’re just called office supplies now. Check out some of our favorite office, and life, supplies below!
Perfect for planning class lessons, or jotting down the week’s to-dos, this set comes with a mini cork agenda made from sustainable stone paper, plus a two pack of bamboo ballpoint pens. Cork, a beautiful renewable resource, adds a touch of sophistication to the agenda, revealing smooth and easy-to-write stone paper on the interior.
If you work a 9-5, or spend a lot of time in front of the computer, you know how straining it can be on your eyes, wrists, and even your neck and spine. This is because your monitor should be positioned directly in front of you, with the center of the screen at eye level. Most monitors are a lot lower than this, which is why we love Maderacraft’s bamboo wood Monitor Stand! Made from FSC Certified bamboo wood, this stand adds a touch of class, sophistication, and (most importantly) organization to any desk setup. Plus, bamboo wood is one of the most durable materials out there, so you won’t have to worry about your computer crash landing.
We call this the office essentials pack, but it’s perfect for classrooms, craft-rooms, and offices alike. It comes with a pack of 30 bamboo push pins, a ½ size bamboo stapler, plus naturally anti-microbial and plant-based corn plastic scissors to finish it off. Classic push pins use tiny pieces of non-recyclable plastic pieces, so we opted for bamboo ones that look great, and are made way more sustainably. This is also a great first step towards a zero waste office–so be sure to use your sustainable supplies to educate your co-workers!
If you’ve ever had a bad laptop bag, you know just how important is it to have something durable, protective, and easy to carry around. The alternative is a broken laptop, and no one wants that. Almost every backpack has a laptop compartment now, but we love the Lakeland Laptop Bag by United by Blue for toting our supplies around. The two exterior pockets are awesome for grabbing your phone and headphones on the run, with a padded interior sleeve to keep your computer cozy. In a place with weird weather? This bag features a weather resistant flat to keep your laptop dry. Pro tip: this is also good for when you violently drop your coffee onto your bag (yes, this is from experience).