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Eco-Friendly Back-to-School Shopping

Eco-Friendly Back-to-School Shopping

It's hard to think about this while still in summer mode, but yes, it is that time of's time to get ready to go back to school. 

How can you buy school supplies for your kids in the greenest way possible?

1)  Avoid backpacks made of (PVC) vinyl.  Vinyl contains dioxins, which the EPA says is a leading cancer-causing agent.  Soft vinyl sometimes has di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, which the U.S. National Toxicology Program has identified as a carcinogenic compound.  Seek backpacks made of cotton, canvas, or even hemp or bamboo!   Pick something sturdy and long-lasting, one that you won't need to replace annually.  LL Bean backpack last forever!  

2)  Buy a reusable lunchbox or bag instead of having your kids use paper lunch bags.  Again, avoid PVC.  We like this Litter-Free Lunch Kit.  

3)  Buy reusable containers for packing lunches. Use water bottles and thermoses for drinks, sandwich boxes, etc.  Glass and stainless steel are two good options.  Sometimes you still might want sandwich baggies around (hey, we all fall behind on the dishes!), so look for biodegradable ones on your next shopping trip to keep around in case of an emergency or for when your kids need to brown bag it for a field trip.  Don't forget to include a cloth napkin and reusable utensils.  

4)  Say good-bye to juice boxes, water bottles, and canned drinks in your kids lunches.  If you DO happen to get any of those drinks made with drink pouches, have your kids bring the pouches home so you can participate in the TerraCycle, Capri Sun™ and Honest Kids™ Brigade!

5)  Opt for notebooks made of recycled paper.  Mead makes recycled spiral notebooks and binders.   And remind your kids always to use the backs of paper!   Once done with the notebook, if your kids don't want to save them remember to compost or recycle.

6)  Upcycle!  Try to reuse what you can from last year.  Your kids might not want to use the same binder as last year, but make it seem more appealing by turning it into a craft project.  Glue stuff (puzzle pieces, perhaps?) on to it, make a collage with pictures from newspapers or magazines, and jazz up last year's binder.  Or sew fun stuff on to last year's backpack!  Try to make the school supplies last.  Or maybe your younger daughter might want your older daughter's "big girl" backpack from last year?

7)  Buy biodegradable pens or eco-friendly pencils.   A little more expensive, but they can make a big difference...especially with pens, which aren't recyclable.  Refillable pens are another greener option.  My son and I love TreeSmart pencils and I think you will, too!

8)  Look for eco-friendly kids clothes, hand-me-downs, or fun thrift shop finds!


Need some help on where to find these products?  Inhabitat has a great resource list, which includes some really cute notebooks!

Originally posted on 8/25/2009, updated on 8/13/2014.