We’ve seen article after article and video after video magnifying just how terrific, amazing, and awesome teachers are. We also know how overworked, underappreciated, undervalued, and underpaid these superheroes are.
When it comes to making a supply list for the school year, the first thing on every teacher’s mind is making sure their classroom, and its students, can function at the highest efficiency levels.
But did you know commonly-requested back-to-school supplies have been found to contain toxic chemicals?
In a public interest group’s investigation, back-to-school materials purchased from a variety of stores found that Playskool crayons contained traces of asbestos (carcinogen); EXPO & The Board Dudes dry erase markers contained Benzene (carcinogen); and Jot 3-Ring Binders contained phthalates (endocrine disrupters).
In addition to all of the plastic that comes with school supplies and single-use supplies — we don’t want to see these materials on the playground.
The good news is that there are plenty of sustainable alternatives to these chemical-filled supplies and that’s what we’re talking about today!
This school season, we’re switching over to eco-friendly school supplies that are safe for your kids and safe for the planet!
Let’s get into 22 eco-friendly school supplies for kids going back to school this year!
Why Should We Make Kids' School Supplies More Eco-Friendly?
(Petroleum) plastics never fully break down — instead, they keep breaking into smaller and smaller pieces known as microplastics (less than 5 mm in diameter) and nanoplastics (between 1 nanometer and 1 micrometer).
Because they’re so small they can work their way into almost anything. Microplastics have been found in salt, fresh fruit and vegetables, drinking water, and recently inside human blood and lungs. Yikes!
Look around the room you’re in right now.
- Are you touching something plastic?
- Can you see something plastic?
We’re going to guess the answer is yes — because same here. So imagine how much plastic kids are exposed to at school.
Kids are our future teachers, leaders, CEOs, electricians, and doctors but right now they’re the most vulnerable to health impacts due to climate change. By the time they’re adults, they’ll be living through the worse effects ever seen.
By surrounding them with more sustainable and plastic-free school supplies, you can surround them with healthier alternatives to the harmful chemicals that lurk in their supplies while also encouraging them to think about greener solutions for the future — for their future.
Tips To Consider When Shopping For Sustainable Kids' School Supplies
Just as it is in life outside of school, it’s not going to be possible to make the entire school list sustainable — and that’s okay!
The teacher (and the classroom) will require disposable items and we always recommend doing what the teacher says. But wherever possible, try to eliminate single-use plastic while incorporating more reusable items. Make better choices whenever and wherever you can.
One of the easiest — and often overlooked — ways to create a more sustainable environment is to use what you already have.
We would never want to deny a child the joy (and memories) of opening up a new pack of pencils to start the school year or fresh, crinkle-less (and doodle-free) folders, but maybe you can sneak a few gently used supplies into the mix.
Try these tips before heading out, or online, for your new eco-friendly school supplies!
Shop Your House First
- We all know how sneaky pens and other small objects are. They find their way to the unreachable corners of backpacks, purses, drawers, and underneath couches. Collect what you can find into one place and determine what’s in good enough condition to be used for the next school year, what can be repurposed into your office, and what can be donated. Then make a list of what still needs to be purchased and see below.
Make A List And Stick To It
- Even as adults we find the pull of the back-to-school aisle almost irresistible but making a list can help you avoid overpurchasing.
- Check out local secondhand stores for things like backpacks, lunch boxes, and of course clothes, instead of shopping for brand-new things. Stores like REI and Patagonia also offer a gently worn section where you can find great deals.
Keep It Timeless
- Whenever possible, resist the urge for the latest cartoon, toy, or design (unless of course, it’s a timeless Lisa Frank). Opt instead for colors and patterns that won’t become ‘so last season’ so quickly. This way, it can grow with your child and accumulate stickers and pins along the way.
- You want to make sure whatever you buy is going to survive being thrown to the bottom of a locker, acting as a bus cushion, protecting someone from the rain even though you told them to take a raincoat, and of course, all the books. Backpacks and other school supplies go through a lot, so if you purchase something brand new, look for brands with lifetime warranties. It may not be advertised as ‘sustainable’ but anything built to last is exactly what we need more of. The Manual published a great article on which brands have excellent warranties.
Alright, the reason you’re here: scroll your way through our eco-friendly back-to-school supplies guide! Look for the item you need and find brand recommendations, and sometimes advice, to help you make an earth-conscious decision.
22 Eco-Friendly Back-To-School Supplies For Kids (By Category)
- Decomposition — Pencils made from sustainably harvested incense cedar wood grown in the USA.
- Sprout Pencils @ Earth Hero — Plantable pencils made from FSC Certified wood with natural clay and graphite.
- Onyx + Green — HB #2 Pencils made from recycled newspapers (packaged in plastic).
- Wisdom Supply Co — 2HB Unpainted Incense Cedar Pencils — because paint is usually made with plastic and WSC knows kids love to nibble.
- Wisdom Supply Co — Zero waste compact aluminum pencil tin with a 100% wool liner. This kit comes with 1 unpainted pencil, 1 wax highlighter, 1 natural rubber eraser, and 1 metal pencil sharpener with 2 replacement blades.
- Mayan Hands — Handmade woven pencil pouch made by skilled (fairly paid) Mayan artisans.
- Terra Thread — Bataí Organic Cotton Pencil Bag made with certified organic cotton made in a Fairtrade-certified factory.
Look for natural rubber erasers packaged in a cardboard box.
- Onyx + Green — Made from recycled rubber (instead of raw rubber; packaged in plastic).
- Koh-I-Nor L&C Hardtmuth @ Alder & Alouette — Made from 100% natural rubber which is compostable.
You want to focus on materials that will be long-lasting, like stainless steel. A sharpener that has a replaceable blade is a good sign they’ll be taking it to college.
- Onyx + Green — Two-hole pencil sharpener made with a bamboo exterior. (Packaged in plastic).
- Staples — Manual Pencil Sharpener (one size) made with 100% stainless steel.
- Wisdom Supply Co — The compact aluminum pencil case kit contains one metal pencil sharpener with 2 blade replacements.
Prioritize cardboard packaging over plastic whenever possible.
- Onyx + Green — 24-pack of colored pencils made with recycled newspaper, non-toxic, and lead-free materials. Also available at Ecological Market.
- Wisdom Supply Co — Pack of 12 FSC-certified Unlacquered Incense Cedar Colored Pencils (because lacquer and paint both contain plastic/plasticizers).
- Stubby Pencil Studio — 12-Pack of FSC-certified incense cedar wood colored pencils with wax cores.
- Faber-Castell — 12 Grip Colored EcoPencils made from re-forested wood.
Not many pens can be 100% sustainable; however there are a variety of alternatives that offer better options.
- Decomposition — The body is made from 90% Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) recycled plastic. Black ink with a .5mm tip.
- Onyx + Green — The bodies are made from recycled milk and juice cartons. Pens are retractable with a .7mm tip and black ink.
- Pilot @ Target — Available at Target, the pen casing is made from 89% recycled content. Assorted ink colors with .7mm tip.
- Lamy — Learn To Write Refillable Kid's Fountain Pen with ergonomic design. Left-hand designs are available, different tip sizes are available, and it comes with blue ink.
- Seltzer Pens — Plastic pens made with some recycled materials; black ink refillable cartridges designed for durability.
- AGood Company — Refillable soy-ink pens made from meadow grass and a small amount of BPA-free recycled plastic. .5mm tip. Blue and black ink are available.
Wax and pencil highlighters won’t bleed through pages and can be sharpened to your liking.
- Wisdom Supply Co — Wax Peel Highlighters mean no bleeding and no drying out!
- Stubby Pencil Studio — Highlighter pencils sustainably made with wood from managed forests, finished with natural materials (no plastics, ink, or VOC’s).
- Edding EcoLine @ Paper Ink Arts — Refillable highlighters manufactured with 90% renewable resources.
Prioritize markers that come in cardboard packaging. Crayola and other brands can be recycled through Terracycle.
- AusPen — Refillable whiteboard markers.
- Decomposition — No metal spiral; made from 100% PCW (post-consumer waste).
- Decomposition — With metal spiral; made from 100% PCW
- Decomposition — 2-pack of loose-leaf paper made from 100% PCW. (packaged in plastic).
- Ecology @ Target — 500 sheets of loose-leaf paper; made from 100% PCW.
- Harvest @ Eco Paper — Tree-free wire-bound notebook made from banana fiber agricultural waste.
3 Ring Binder
- Decomposition — 3 ring binders made with 85% Post-consumer waste recycled polypropylene. Rings hold 1” up to 200 sheets of loose paper.
- Wisdom Supply Co — Self-assemble zero waste binder kit. The cover is removable, replaceable, and 100% recyclable.
- Earthwise @ Staples — 2-pocket folders made from 100% recycled fibers.
- Decomposition Folder — 5-pack of 2-pocket folders made with 85% recycled polypropylene.
- Onyx + Green — Plant-based non-toxic liquid glue (recyclable with TerraCycle). Also available at EarthHero.
- Onyx + Green — Plant-based non-toxic glue sticks (x2) (recyclable with TerraCycle). Also available at EarthHero.
Prioritize crayons packaged in cardboard whenever possible.
- Crazy Crayons — 100% recycled crayons with a crayon take-back program.
- Honeysticks — Jumbo 16-pack made with 100% beeswax and food-safe pigments.
- Honeysticks — Watercolors made from 100% food-grade ingredients.
- Milk Paint @ KindHumans — Water-based paints made with non-toxic natural ingredients.
- Onyx + Green — 12” ruler made from bamboo. Also available at EarthHero.
- Staples — 12” stainless steel ruler that will be following them all through school and onto their first (and last) apartment.
- Onyx + Green — Kids rounded tip recycled plastic scissors with stainless steel blades. Also available at EarthHero.
- Baum Kuchen — Stainless steel scissors for larger projects, crafts, and adults.
Try looking at secondhand stores for high-quality backpacks!
- Terra Threads — Earth Backpack; made from Fairtrade cotton and manufactured in a Fairtrade factory. Shipped without plastic.
- Patagonia Wornwear — gently used Patagonia gear.
- Patagonia — Refugio Daypack 26L (check your local store first). (Patagonia guarantees everything they make. It can be replaced, repaired, or returned).
- Jansport — Restore Pack; made from recycled materials; Jansport stays a classic for a reason. (The warranty should cover full repairs and product defects for life).
- The North Face — The Youth Court Jester backpack is made with recycled polyester with non-PFC durable water-repellent. All North Face products (except footwear) are fully warrantied with a Limited Lifetime Warranty.
- United by Blue — (R) evolution 15L backpack; made responsibly with recycled materials. Complete with a lifetime warranty, United by Blue also removes a pound of ocean trash with every purchase.
- 8,000 Kicks — Rolltop backpack made with PFC-free hemp fibers.
Prioritize stainless steel, reusable materials, and designs and colors that won’t turn into “that’s so two thousand and late”.
- Eco Lunch Boxes — Tri Bento 100% Stainless Steel container. Holds 36 ounces across all layers and is BPA, BPS, & Phthalate-free.
- Eco Lunch Boxes — Three-in-one Splash Box — plastic-free, dishwasher safe, and holds 32 ounces.
- Eco Lunch Boxes —Lunchbag sewn from GTOS-certified organic cotton; closes with polyester hook-and-loop velcro and is machine washable.
- Fluf — Organic cotton zippered lunch bag made from recycled plastic water bottles. Flexible, lined, not insulated, and machine washable. Also available at EarthHero.
- Out of the Woods — reusable “paper” lunch bag — a take on an old classic.
- Back Market — Refurbished laptops, phones, AirPods, and more!
And Don’t Forget The Compostable Accessories!
- Bamboo Paper Towels make great lunch accessories and are perfect for cleaning up crafts and after-school lunches!
- Compostable (non-paper) Straws are great to send along in lunch boxes and for parties. Keep a box in their backpack so they can share with their friends whenever they feel like slurping.
- Compostable plates, cups, and utensils are a must-have for quick after-school snacks, birthday parties, school picnics — or any back-to-school celebrations you’re having solo.
- Stemless wine cups are perfect to celebrate getting your little ones off to school safely, happily, and healthily.
We’ve linked to individual stores to help you shop for your kid’s eco-friendly back-to-school supplies, instead of on Amazon. Whenever possible, we encourage you to support small businesses working to provide sustainable alternatives.
Your purchasing power matters. Amazon won’t notice if you don’t shop with them but your purchases mean the world to small businesses.
Happy back-to-school supplying!