The first day of school is barreling towards us, and with it comes a long list of stuff to get for the upcoming year. For parents looking to use more environmentally-friendly options, back-to-school time can be the perfect opportunity to choose sustainable items in place of more traditional, less eco-friendly, supplies.
There are a variety of ways that you can help the environment, but at the most basic level, one thing you can do is start to challenge your own habits. Choosing options that subvert the need for single-use plastics is one way, as is selecting products that are made out of recycled materials. When you take this on with your kids, you're helping get them involved in making choices that are healthier for the whole planet at large, a pretty great lifestyle change to tackle as a family.
The following is a list of some of our favorite eco-friendly school supplies to help your kids have a happy, sustainable school year.
1. A sandwich bag that can be used again and again
Many schools and classrooms are trying to move towards zero-waste options when it comes to kids lunches. Lunchskins—our pick for the best reusable sandwich bags—are an eco-friendly alternative to the traditional plastic zip bags. The bags are BPA-free and come in a variety of charming prints, and the velcro closures are much easier for little hands to open than traditional zip-top bags. They're dishwasher safe and can also be thrown in the washing machine. The only downside is that you might have to remind your kids to bring them home at the end of the day.
2. Reusable plastic cutlery
One surprising source of waste is disposable cutlery. Encouraging kids to carry—and use—their own set of reusable cutlery, can help put a dent in the amount of single-use plastic waste we generate. The To Go Cutlery Set from Sistema comes with a fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks, all in a super convenient carrying case that's easy for your child to throw in his backpack.
3. Pens that used to be water bottles
Everyone's favorite gel pens have gone green: Pilot's new ‘Bottle-2-Pen’ retractable pens are created from recycled plastic. If pens are on your child's must-have school supply list, why not purchase some that are made of recycled materials? These are the first pens made from recycled water bottles, but they feature the same beloved ink as before—plus they're available in vibrant colors like lime green and pink.
4. A colorful lunch box
This adorable bento-style box is perfect for little ones just starting school (it's recommended for ages 3-7). BPA-free and made of food grade materials, the Bentgo is leak proof and features a removable five-compartment lunch tray. It's also super-durable, the latches are easy for small children to open themselves, and the lunch insert is dishwasher safe. Another perk is that it comes with a two-year warranty.
5. A reusable way to bring snacks
For snacks that are easily squished or are not otherwise suited to reusable lunch bags, MIRA stainless steel lunch box containers are a great alternative. They're stackable for simple storage, and easy to clean and pack anywhere you go. The best part might be just how durable they are, in case your little one has clumsy fingers.
6. A kid-sized water bottle
Our top-rated water bottle is also eco-friendly—and just what your kids will need to keep hydrated no matter where they go. Made from safe, food-grade stainless steel, it's the perfect container to bring drinks to and from school. An added perk is that the opening is wide enough to fit ice, something your kids might appreciate on a hot summer morning.
8. A cute case for school supplies
This adorable pencil case From Blue Q is made from 95% post-consumer recycled materials and 1% of sales go to help support nature conservation efforts. If you're looking for a plastic-free way to corral your child's school supplies, this zippered pouch is just the right size. It also works as an undercover way for pre-teen girls to transport tampons and pads.
9. A stylish lunch bag
This lunch bag from SoYoung is an adorably eco-friendly option that is PVC, phthalate, lead, and BPA free. It’s eco-friendly and machine washable, which is great news when it comes to messy kids. It’s made of raw linen, and has an adjustable strap so that it can be used from the preschool to the preteen years. Ditch the disposable paper lunch bags, and opt for this durable bag that your child can use and reuse—it's also a great companion for the Bentgo lunch box.
10. A better binder
Despite all the technological advances, your kid will likely still have a long supply list that includes binders, papers and notebooks. Samsill's Earth's Choice binders are composed of at least 59% biobased material, including a polypropylene cover made with up to 25% plant based renewable plastic, and chipboard made from 100% recycled material. Keep all of your busy student's papers corralled in a binder that's better for the environment, and priced about the same as traditional, less eco-friendly products.
11. A cute backpack
Not only are Petit Collage backpacks adorable, but they're also eco-friendly. The water resistant exterior is made from 100% cotton canvas covered in a solvent-free, biodegradable laminate. With adjustable straps, a side mesh pocket, a large interior pocket and a name tag, this backpack is perfect for toting all their supplies to and from school in style.
12. An earth-friendly way to keep lunch cold
If you're worried about keeping your child's lunch at a safe temperature, but don't want to use ice packs full of bad-for-the-earth chemicals, look no further than Thrive's ice packs. These compact ice packs come in a variety of cute prints and they fit perfectly inside most lunch bags. Made from BPA-free vinyl and filled with a non-toxic, biodegradable gel, the ice packs will keep your little one's lunch cool for up to eight hours.
13. A notebook that helps plant trees
Unruled's notebooks have no lines (hence the name) and were designed by college students with sustainability in mind. The covers of the notebooks are made of 100% recycled material, and the pages consist of 30% post consumer recycled waste. Unruled also goes the extra mile and donates 1% of their annual sales to One Tree Planted, who plants trees on their behalf.
14. A pencil you can plant
Skip the old-school #2 pencils and send your child to school with a box of Sprout pencils instead. Sprout pencils are non-toxic, biodegradable, lead-free, and made from sustainably-harvested cedar wood. Each pencil also comes with a small seed capsule attached to the end: when it's too short to use for writing, plant it in soil and watch it bloom. The Sprouts Kids edition box includes eight pencils—six colors and two regular graphite—as well as a coloring book.
15. A (reusable) bag full of eco-friendly school supplies
Make back-to-school shopping easy on yourself with Onyx and Blue's sustainable school supply kit. The set includes kid-friendly scissors made of corn, retractable pens made from recycled milk cartons, and a double pencil sharper crafted entirely from bamboo—as well as a few other items—and it all comes packaged in a reusable linen bag. Whether your student is seven or 17, there's plenty of eco-friendly gear included to keep her stocked throughout the year.
Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.