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Back To School with Zero Waste

Back To School with Zero Waste

Save Money and Our Planet With Tips for a Plastic-Free Back to School 

When my kids started elementary school, I was astounded by the number of school supplies needed for each kid. Students were asked to buy kits of brand-new supplies instead of using their leftover supplies from the previous year. I was also shocked to learn how many toxins were in traditional school supplies. 

I sympathize with that euphoric feeling you and your children may get about going back-to-school with shiny, new school supplies, but you should know a few things that may make them seem a little less shiny. Read on to learn more about zero waste ideas for schools.

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First, imagine all the pencils, crayons, markers, binders, notebooks, books, and other items needed for all the kids going back to school. Now imagine all the plastic, toxins, and natural resources used to make those school supplies – it adds up fast! 

According to the EPA, Americans throw away about 1.6 billion pens a year! And that’s not including pencils and other writing instruments! We also use about 90 million tons of paper each year! Bottom line, buying brand-new school supplies every year adds up to a LOT of waste.

Please consider before you go to the dollar store that many school supplies are bad for the environment and your children’s health. It’s time to go to school supply-less with these tips: 

Back-To-School with Zero Waste

Reduce, Reuse and Repurpose School Supplies 

Reduce the school supplies you need by first seeing what you can repurpose. A few easy and fun ways to do this include:

  • Clear out your old binders and reuse them. Are they ripped? Buy some colorful, nontoxic tape to patch them together. Simple! 
  • Rip out the used paper in your notebooks and use the rest. Or you can make cute, “new” notebooks from old ones. Easy!
  • Look through and pick out the functioning pens, pencils, and crayons that you have and reuse them. You can even make it a game by sharpening the pencils as a family or upcycling old crayons into something new. Fun!
  • Give new life to your old backpack by washing, repairing, and re-stitching it (maybe with a fun new patch!). Save the Environment! 
  • Make sure to go clothes-less this school year too. Wash and use the clothes you already have or shop at your local thrift store. Need something new? Try to avoid “fast-fashion.” Done!



Buy Non-Toxic, Recycled or Reusable Products

Once you’ve exhausted the school supplies you can repurpose and have determined you still need to purchase something new, consider these tips:

Before you buy any new school supplies, do the research to find mission-based, eco-friendly products made by ethical companies, like ECOlunchbox! Look for recycled content in these back-to-school supplies like paper, pens, and pencils. Look for items that say BPA free, non-toxic, and made from recycled content.

I love binders with cardboard covers instead of plastic, refillable pens that use cartridges instead of one-time-use disposables, yellow Stabilo highlighter pencils instead of plastic ones, pencils made from recycled newspaper, sharpeners made of metal instead of plastic, dry erasers made from wool instead of plastic, and so much more!

Instead of purchasing the trendy, single-use plastic box that your little one will be “so over” next year, consider an ECOdipper for paperclips, erasers, and little knick-knacks!

ECOlunchboxes are 100% plastic-free, making a healthy, zero-waste, ECO school year a natural choice. Oh, and when your little ones no longer need a tin for their trinkets, they can repurpose their ECOdipper time and time again! 

And last but not least, avoid plastic, especially vinyl! A recent study by the Center for Environmental Justice tested the amount of toxic phthalates in children’s school supplies. Phthalates are a toxic plasticizer used to soften vinyl and have been linked to birth defects, early puberty, infertility, asthma, ADHD, obesity, and diabetes. The study, which can be downloaded as a PDF here, tested 20 children’s items, including backpacks, binders, and lunch bags. About 75% of these back-to-school supplies had high levels of toxic phthalates (including those cute princess and superhero backpacks)! 

Guest contributor Kim Lewand Martin is an environmental lawyer and founder of Grades of Green, an environmental education nonprofit! She wants to change the world by making our planet a little greener. You can check out her monthly eco-habits here!

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