pple, pile of books, and backpack with pencils and ruler

Summer is zooming by and back-to-school season is upon us. If you’re like most parents, you’re rushing to the nearest department store to check off your favorite students’ list of supplies to prepare them for the best school year yet. As you scan the list, consider each item’s sustainability.

Is it reusable? Is it made from sustainable material? Does it produce waste? Chances are, your school supply haul needs an eco-friendly makeover. This list of sustainable swaps will help get your school year off to a green start.

1. A Sustainable Backpack

Ask any student: You can’t be prepared for school or cool enough for the other kids without a proper backpack.

Unfortunately, the textile industry emits more greenhouse gases than international shipping and aviation combined, according to a report by the Circular Fibres Initiative. Waste is an enormous part of the industry as scraps and supplies are constantly thrown out. Plus, more than 85 percent of used textiles end up in landfills.

While searching for your next backpack, consider its durability, recyclability, and source. Some companies, like Patagonia, are making a change towards sustainable textiles. Look for backpacks made from from renewable resources like hemp or linen. Alternately, the UltimateGreen Store offers a selection of PVC-free backpacks made from recycled materials.

2. Eco-Friendly Notebooks

Even as technology becomes more prevalent in classrooms, nothing beats pen and paper. But where does that notebook come from?

The pulp and paper industry has an enormous influence on the planet’s forests, often depleting resources and funding damaging logging projects.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the pulp and paper industry is the single largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in developed countries. The water they release is often laced with pollutants, damaging aquatic ecosystems and threatening human health.

On the other hand, responsible pulp and paper operations can benefit ecosystems, economies, and people.

Look for sustainable and ethically-sourced Fair Trade paper products, or look for items made from recycled paper, including notebooks, notepads, and printer paper.

3. Refillable Pen

Do you jump at the opportunity for a free pen? Businesses love using them as cheap advertising, but they’re often single-use. Pens are an unexpected, but persistent, source of waste.

Americans throw away an estimated 1.6 billion pens every year. Recycling them is often complicated, if not impossible.

With a reusable fountain pen, you can refill its ink a number of times before moving on to a new one, significantly reducing personal waste while adding to the experience of writing. You can also invest in a long-lasting pen and refuse the disposable the next time your school or bank offers one.

4. Green Lunch Supplies

Single-use paper and plastic products are clogging our landfills and polluting our planet. Going reusable is a greener alternative, so look to actively shrink your carbon footprint with each use.

Instead of using plastic bags or plastic wrap to pack your kids’ lunch, opt for reusable containers. A myriad of glass and metal food containers and lunch boxes are on the market today. A reusable Japanese bento box style container makes lunchtime both fun and eco-friendly. 

Consider reusable utensils, water bottles, and napkins to include in your student’s eco-friendly lunch kit, too.

5. DIY Pencil Case

You can easily transform scrap fabric, glue, and a zipper into a cute carrying case to keep your school supplies handy. So, instead of buying a manufactured pencil case, make your own upcycled one with this tutorial. If sewing isn’t your thing, swap the thread for fabric glue.

Do you have suggestions for eco-friendly school supplies?

By Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.