Back to school shopping with green in mind

Published on: 
25 Aug 2017
Blair Toy

Green school supplies are not only better for the environment, but they are also beneficial for kids’ health and well-being. Some favorites on the school shopping list can contain chemicals and ingredients that are bad for the earth and for human health. When back-to-school shopping this year, consider choosing green products to ensure your student is able to stay healthy, focus on learning, and live in a more sustainable world.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

When considering your school supply purchase, remember the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.

Reduce: Buying less is better for your wallet and the environment. Communicate with school staff to understand exactly what your student needs to avoid excess purchases.

Reuse: It’s time to take inventory from last year’s stockpile! Not all school supplies need to be brand new. Typically a quick cleaning, washing or sharpening will have supplies looking fresh. Reusable items include:

  • Backpacks: Backpacks are made to last more than just one school year. However, wear and tear is inevitable. Consider adding fun patches if there are holes, or pins/buttons just for new, fresh character.
  • Lunch totes: Reusable lunch totes are more sustainable than a disposable paper lunch bag. Equally important is what is inside the lunch tote: using reusable containers can reduce the amount of waste and keep plastic bags out of the landfills.
  • Pencil boxes/pouches: Similar to backpacks, these products can be used from year to year. However, they can collect a lot of dirt - nothing a little washing can’t fix, though.
  • Binders/folders: Binders and folders can be given a second life with fun stickers or patterned tape.
  • Colored pencils, markers, crayons, etc.: Sharpen up your pencils and crayons to extend their life. Store them in a durable, reusable container if the original boxes are falling apart. Consider repurposing your broken crayons by making colored candles, which can be a great teacher gift.
  • Notebooks: All the sheets in a notebook are rarely used up in one year. Try saving up extra pages in a binder for use the next year.

Recycle: When it’s time to retire old school supplies, don’t forget to look for opportunities to recycle. Plastics, paper, glass, and metals are the most commonly recyclable items, which is good to remember not only when you’re throwing things out but also when you purchase new supplies.

Buying green school supplies

Some products need to be purchased new at back-to-school time. We’re here to help you be an informed green consumer. There are hundreds of labels and claims promising environmentally friendly products, which can be overwhelming. Be wary of products claiming to be “natural,” “healthy,” or “wholesome” without providing certifications to back it up. When shopping, keep your eye out for these reliable green certifications: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Green Seal, and Safer Choice.


Green products may be difficult to identify, but doing research ahead of time and reading labels can help ensure that you end up with the best options.

  • Paper products: Look for FSC or Green Seal certifications for office paper and other types of paper products. Green Seal provides a user friendly guide of certified products, including one for printing and writing paper, and one for paper towels, napkins and tissue paper.
  • Cleaning products: Green Seal and EPA’s Safer Choice provide lists of cleaning products and other chemicals that are greener and safer. Green Seal provides a list for hand soaps and household products. An added consideration for these type of products when school supply shopping that you may consider is “fragrance-free” products to help avoid triggering allergies or asthma in the classroom.
  • Recyclable products: When purchasing a product, particularly one that will be single-use or that won’t last long, look out for recycling symbols. Become familiar with which numbers of plastic (#1-#7) can be recycled where you are, and only purchase school supplies made of material that can be recycled in your town. Materials that are not easily recyclable include lamination, styrofoam and vinyl binders.

Looking for more guidance on green supplies and materials? Check out the credits within the LEED rating system that cover this topic: Purchasing for Ongoing Consumables and Green Cleaning Products.

Interested in doing an activity with your class or school about green school supplies? Consider a Reduce, Reuse Recycle project that you can do for Green Apple Day of Service this year.