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The Eco-Friendly Parent’s School Shopping List

Aug. 30, 2019Every year, over 50 million kids in the US head to local stores to stock up on all of the back to school essentials with their parents. Kids need what they need for school, but does it have to be all plastic binders and polyester backpacks?

The world has answered parents’ cries for more sustainable school supplies options, and you guys, there are SO many great alternatives out there to the usual 20 packs of BICs and loose leaf paper stacks.

#1— Backpacks for Big Kids

You know what’s really frustrating about buying backpacks? They inevitably split open beyond any kind of ambitious DIY repair, and have to be thrown into the landfill.

If you’re buying backpacks this year for older elementary, middle or high school kids, these backpacks by Ecogear are the way to go. Fashioned out of ultra-durable Repreve fabric, they’re made from recycled plastic bottles. Demand for them literally cleans up the world’s oceans.



#2— Preschool Backpacks

Have a little mini-you preparing for their first year of preschool? These backpacks are also made from recycled plastic bottles, and are small enough for your tiny humans to haul to their first day of school.



#3— PlanetBox Stainless Steel Lunch Boxes

Planetbox makes some of the most incredible plastic-free lunchboxes. Made of 100% stainless steel, they’re durable, come fully loaded with multiple compartments to keep food neat, and can be customized with a cute magnet pack.

We Tried It

Planetbox was nice enough to send me some of their stainless steel lunch gear to try, and holy WOW — this stuff might actually be astronaut-grade. The lunchbox is SO tough, with sturdy metal hinges, and a tension clamp that slips easily over the edge. It’s secure enough that it’s not going to fly open in a backpack, but easy enough for little hands to open.

I love that my kids can customize the lunchboxes with the magnet sets, too. The insulated lunch box is definitely worth the extra investment as well. Planetboxes themselves aren’t insulated, but this ultra-thin pack keeps everything cool, without taking up a ton of space.

What I’ve found though is that the compartments aren’t sealed off from each other in a Planetbox, which means that your yogurt will run into your chicken nuggets unless you put it in one of their special containers. Planetbox sells little stainless steel watertight containers that fit neatly in each of their boxes, and trust me — they’re worth having on hand for sauces and such.



#4— Recycled Newspaper Colored Pencils

I love products that make use of waste. In a world that’s rapidly filling up with trash, hey — we might as well make it into something useful.

These eco-friendly colored pencils are made from recycled newspaper and packaged in post consumer content packaging — it doesn’t get much greener than that.



#5— Refillable Dry Erase Markers

Dry erase markers will always dry out, and they will almost always be made of plastic — it’s not an easy problem to solve. Thankfully, Auspen has figured it out. Their dry erase markers feature a reusable metal pen that can be refilled when the cartridge dries out, instead of throwing away the whole marker.

The result? Your kids could literally wind up using these dry erase markers until they graduate.

We Tried It

Auspen sent me a couple of their dry erase markers to take for a test run, and these things are SO COOL you guys.

I wasn’t sure how a person would go about refilling a dry erase marker, but it turns out, it’s as straightforward as a bottle of ink and a steady hand.

What I really loved about these markers though was that they were so low odor, and even a little pleasant smelling. I got the bullet tipped markers, and loved how they wrote on my board — nice, nimble, clean lines that left no trace when I wiped them off 10 minutes later.


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#6— Eco-Friendly Pens

Like dry erase markers, pens will inevitably get tossed out over the course of the school year. They’re difficult to recycle, and like most plastics, will take 500+ years to break down when tossed out.

Not cool.

These pens are still made from plastic, but I like that they’re at least made from recycled milk cartons. When you’re done with them, you can still recycle them in this zero-waste box from Terracycle.


#7— Eco-Friendly Calculator

There aren’t many options out there for eco-friendly calculators. If your child needs something really robust, like a calculus calculator, your best bet is to look for one used.

If you just need something for simple calculations, this solar powered calculator is made from bamboo and is as close as you can get to just using a freaking phone.



$8— Zero Waste Stapler

I didn’t even know zero-waste staplers were a THING until I saw this paper clincher on Amazon. It basically presses papers together in a super tight pinch. There are no staples, and there is no waste.



#9— Stainless Steel Water Bottle

It’s really hard to find a truly plastic-free water bottle. Almost all of the glass and stainless steel options still have a plastic top, which to me is crazy, because this is the part that comes into contact with a kid’s mouth.

I LOVE Pura’s stainless steel water bottles. They make them in sport bottle styles for big kids and grownups, sippy cups for little kids, and bottles for babies.



#10— Eco-Friendly Gym Shoes

There are a lot of eco-friendly shoes on the market right now, but finding a good pair of athletic shoes that are sustainably made is pretty tough.

If your kids need gym shoes this school year and you’re looking to scoop up a new pair, one of the best options actually comes from Adidas in their Parley line, made from salvaged ocean waste.





#11— Recycled Rubber Erasers

These recycled rubber erasers are SO COOL. Made from 100% recycled rubber, some industrial and some consumer, they come packaged in post-consumer packaging, with soy-based inks.



#12— Eco-Friendly Spiral Notebooks

One day, schools will eliminate the need for spiral bound notebooks — I see a paperless school year in our future. Until then though, there are these eco-friendly notebooks by Onyx + Green.

Made from sugar cane paper, they’re the most sustainable option I’ve found so far, unless we’re counting an app like Evernote (and we’re not).



#13— Recycled Loose Leaf Note Paper

From Staples of all places comes a loose leaf paper option that’s made with 100% post-consumer content. Made from sugar cane waste and other materials, this loose leaf paper is perfect for filling binders, and saves a few trees to boot.



#14— Eco-Friendly Highlighters

Dry highlighters are totally a thing, and they’re basically just transparent neon colored pencils. You can find them all over the place, but I particularly like this multicolor set on Etsy.



#15— Stainless Steel Sporks

Look, I TOTALLY get not wanting to send your silverware into the school cafeteria, only to meet its untimely demise in the trash can.


But plastic utensils are choking the planet in plastic, and something’s gotta give. At least this plastic spork isn’t a part of the set you got when you got married (and it’s way too cool to accidentally throw away).

We Tried It

Life Without Plastic sent me one of their folding stainless steel sporks to take for a test run, so I put it in my lunchbox and gave it a shot.

It’s easy to unfold, even for my preschooler, and to fold it back down, you just have to “break” it — no little pins or buttons to maneuver. It has a nice big sturdy design, perfect for big and small hands alike, and comes in a cute little cloth carrying bag.



#16— Eco-Friendly Crayons

If your kids are still at the crayons stage, these beeswax based crayons make a great eco-friendly option. Without any petroleum-based products and all natural ingredients, they’re safe for preschoolers, and gentle on the environment, too.



#17— Eco-Friendly Binders

Binders inevitably break free from their spines, and never seem to make it more than a year. These binders by Naked Binder are made from 100% post-consumer content, and are even recyclable themselves.



What’s on your eco-friendly school supplies shopping list this year? Show us your finds on Facebook or Instagram, and tag us in the post, @AvocadoMattress

Destiny Hagest

By Destiny Hagest

 —  Destiny is a freelance writer with a background in sustainability and natural health. She lives in the mountains of central Montana with her husband and young son. When she's not writing or chasing her toddler, you can find her wandering the quiet wilderness in search of wild herbs and antler sheds.

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