Going Green and Eco-Friendly for Back to School Supplies

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August 15, 2011

As much as many kids, and parents, either lament or look forward to going back to school and the end of summer, it is always a time of high emotions. Kids have fears and excitement about the start of a new school year. Parents have anxiety, relief, or most often, mixed emotions. Adding concerns about the cost and environmental impact of back to school supplies and gear becomes overwhelming for many families, but choosing high-quality, eco-friendly school supplies doesn’t have to be difficult.

Wherever your children go to school, homeschool, public school, or private school, this is the time of year families are spending time and money to get their students everything they need to make it through this next school year.

These tips will show you how to make greener back to school choices that will not only benefit the health of your children and the environment, but many will also save you money in the long run!


This can be difficult if your children go to public school and the supply lists demand very specific brands. If you do have more flexibility, there are a plethora of options available that are ethical and healthier for your children. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s teacher about why you would prefer an eco-friendly brand, many would be happy to have eco-friendly options in the classroom.

  • Recycled Pencils and Colored Pencils. Most conventional pencils are made from wood harvested from unregulated forests. High quality, eco-friendly pencils are made from recycled newspaper or cedar wood scrap. It is always a benefit when we can use a new product made from an old one. O’BON, TreeSmart, Lyra, and Green Apple are recommended recycled brands. Choosing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified pencils and colored pencils is another good option.
  • Crayons. Traditional crayons are made with petroleum by-products. These by-products contain harmful chemicals and wreak havoc on the environment if thrown away. Soy and beeswax are a natural alternative and made sustainably from a renewable resource. Prang and Stockmar are recommended brands.
  • Paper and Notebooks. Buy recycled, chlorine-free paper or tree-free options for the least environmental impact. Although, using less paper altogether is always best. Environotes, TNF Eco Papers (“The Banana Paper Company”), and O’BON are recommended brands.


For most schools, bringing lunch from home is the healthiest option. Simply choosing reusable products whenever possible is going have a huge environmental impact. Beyond that, there are some materials that are better than others, both in quality and eco-friendliness.

  • Lunch Boxes. The bento lunchboxes are the most trendy right now for kids and adults alike. Eco-friendly materials like stainless steel is the best, but BPA-free plastic is another good alternative. Inherently, the design of bentos also prevent food waste for the younger children. Planetbox, LunchBots, Happy Tiffin, and The Laptop Lunchbox are recommended brands.
  • Lunch Sacks. For those that just need a simple sack lunch, the materials used and how it is made will be the most important consideration. Organic cotton, recycled juice boxes, and Neoprene avoid problematic chemicals like lead, BPA, vinyl, and PVC or phthalate insulation. Terracycle, Dabbawalla, Mimi the Sardine, and Built are recommended brands.
  • Sandwich Wraps and Snack Bags. Kids love sandwiches. The environment and your budget do not love all the plastic disposable bags used to wrap them. A reusable fabric wrap is easy, won’t leach potentially harmful chemicals, and will save both money and the earth. Wrap-N-Mat and Snack Taxi, are recommended brands.
  • Cloth Napkins and Reusable Utensils. Again, in an effort to reduce waste and more eco-conscious, choosing a reusable cloth napkin or utensil over a disposable one will save money and the environment over the course of the school year (and beyond). Fabkins, People Towels, and To-Go Ware are recommended brands.
  • Water Bottles. Plastic water bottles and soda cans are now recognized as a source of harmful chemicals that leach into the beverages children are drinking. Stainless steel or glass bottles are the best, safest options to reduce chemical exposure and waste. Klean Kanteen, Lifefactory, CamelBak Stainless Steel are recommended brands.


The best choice is to look at any existing backpacks and see if they are still usable. Good quality backpacks can last years, which is a good reason to avoid cute characters that will be outgrown too quickly. The important thing to remember if buying a new backpack is to avoid vinyl. EcoGear, Patagonia, Dabbawalla, Dante Beatrix, and Crocodile Creek are recommended brands.


In an ideal world, our children would be clothed in only the finest untreated organic cotton, wool, or hemp, but the fact remains that most families simply can’t afford the cost. Luckily many larger retailers are starting to offer a larger selection of organic clothing at more reasonable prices. The most eco-friendly way to think about buying new clothes is to understand where and how it was made, plus the durability. Clothes should last well beyond the child.

This is where the best eco-friendly option for clothing comes in: resale. There are fabulous resale shops across the country that will take your child’s outgrown clothes and where you can shop for the next size up. Most shops have high quality standards and offer brands that may not otherwise be affordable. Many communities also have clothing swaps and if yours doesn’t, organize one within your circle of friends that have children of various sizes and ages.

The daily deal sites are also picking up on the organic trend and there are often great sales on organic clothing for children.

Patagonia, Barley & Birch, Kate Quinn Organics, Hanna Andersson, Tea Collection, Hand Full, Little Lark, Shirin Kids, bioME 5 are recommended brands for new clothing, but if you can find them used all the better. Buying good quality used clothing of any brand is a great cost-effective way to go green for back to school supplies.

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