At this time of year, it’s not uncommon for parents to be doing a lot of back-to-school spending. After all, when you walk in to your nearest big box store or mall, there are signs touting back to school specials and savings, and with folders and notebooks costing only a few pennies, what savvy parent wouldn’t take advantage, right? A green parent, that’s who.
You will find aisles upon aisles of inexpensive school supplies, but how many of those are made of toxic chemicals, were made overseas, or are products of old-growth forests that were destroyed forever? Here’s a handy guide to school shopping for parents who want their kids to walk into class glowing a nice shade of green:
What supplies do you have left from last year? Does your child really need a new bookbag, or will their old one suffice? If you have more than one child, are hand-me-downs in order? Can you make or repurpose supplies from items you already have on hand? (Think a small cosmetic bag as a pencil case or folders from leftover pieces of cardstock). After you’ve done this, THEN decide what you really need to purchase.
Shop thrift & consignment stores
See what you can find at your local thrift store, consignment shop or yard sales. You can often find quality clothing and shoes, bookbags and more in great condition. If you must buy new, buy green. The following list will help you source green products.
- Ecogear makes awesome backpacks from organic cotton and recycled materials. Check out my review of their EcoZoo toddler backpacks featuring a variety of cute animals and made of organic cotton. And their backpacks for older kids are now steeply discounted to $19.99 from $79.99.
- Terracycle is one of my favorite companies, not only because they make useful products from recycled materials, but because they get people from accross the nation involved in the collection of those materials. Their direct website is currently undergoing updates, but you can get a Terracycle backpack made of recycled Capri Sun pouches at Target for just $17.99.
- Land’s End makes a great, durable eco-friendly backpack made of 100% recycled fabric. I received one of these babies at BlogHer, and it is perfect for my 10-year-old son, who needs a bag that can take a beating and still last the whole school year. It is now on sale for $44.50.
- GreenSmart makes a line of affordable messenger-style bags, laptop cases and shoulder bags that are made of recycled plastic. From what I hear, they are very durable and lightweight.
- Check out these little and big eco-packs from Dante Beatrix, all made of recycled plastic bottles and featuring cute, bold graphics in bright colors. Priced from $46-56.
- Want something handmade? Head over to Etsy, where you’ll find dozens of options like these organic cotton messenger bags by Sewn Natural.
- The Kids Konserve Waste-Free Lunch Kit is a recycled cotton lunch bag that comes stocked with everything you’ll need to pack a green lunch, including the bag with a recycled aluminum name tag, a cloth napkin, 16 oz. stainless steel beverage bottle, Food Kozy and two stainless steel food containers. (aff)
- Land’s End makes an eco-friendly lunch pack made of recycled materials to match the backpack mentioned above. It is currently on sale for $24.99.
- Looking for a more affordable option? EcoBags offers a certified organic cotton lunch sack for just $7, or you can get this insulated lunch bag made of recycled PET plastic under fair labor guidelines.
- Try a bento box, which is a lunch box that includes separate containers that will allow you to eliminate individual packaging. Instead of a bag of chips, send your child to school with a container full of grapes instead. (aff)
- If you must use packaging, try reusable sandwich and snack bags from ReUsies or LunchSkins.
- Put their drinks in a reusable water bottle. Companies like Kleen Kanteen, Sigg, EcoUsable and others make bottles with great, kid-friendly designs from materials like stainless steel, recycled aluminum and BPA-free plastic.
- Look for pencils made of alternative materials, like Paper Mate’s EarthWrite recycled pencils, It just doesn’t seem right to clearcut hundred-year old trees to make pencils that will sharpened down to nubs, chewed up, lost and discarded. You can even find pencils made of recycled denim, recycled paper and even scented, recycled newspaper Smencils!
- Pentel’s line of “Recycology” pens and pencils are made of recycled plastic, and many of them are also refillable. (aff)
- Yesterday’s News colored pencils are made of recycled Chinese newspapers, and let them color with or crayon rocks or affordable soy crayons instead of traditional options made of potentially toxic paraffin.
- For paper products, head over to Treecycle for their recycled filler paper and spiral-bound notebooks. If you want to buy from a brick and mortar store, head to your nearest Office Depot, Staples or Office Max, which all offer a wide range of products made from recycled paper, including notebooks, computer paper, binders, folders, pads and even sticky notes. Better yet, go tree-free with notebooks and journals by Ecopaper, which are made from banana, coffee, mango, and other types of agricultural waste.
- Nontoxic MagiGlue emits no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), contains no animal by-products and is completely reversible in water.
Clothes & Shoes
Because there are so many companies making great eco-friendly clothing for kids, I’ll just make a list of designers and retailers:
- barley & birch: Organic kids’ tees and tanks up to size 6
- Kate Quinn Organics: Stylish organic clothing for kids up to age 8
- Green Edge Kids: Eco-friendly clothes and accessories from a variety of manufacturers. And be sure to check out their sale section, with items up to 75% off. I’ve gotten some great deals from this page.
- Fig Kids: Fashionable, high-quality organic kids’ clothes, although it is pricey
- Gretchen & Grace Greenwear:
- Sage Creek Organics: Check the toddler boys and toddler girls sections for clothing up to size 6
- Tees For Change: Organic cotton tees with positive messages for juniors and teen boys (aff)
- Tiny Revolutionary: Organic tees printed with soy-based inks up to size 10
- Simple Shoes: I love this company! They make great, durable shoes from sustainable materials like organic cotton and recycled rubber. And in the clearance section, you can get shoes for as low as $9.90! (aff)
Getting them there
- Simply put, the most sustainable way to get your kids to school is on the school bus — unless, of course, you happen to drive an electric vehicle or a hybrid with great gas mileage and super-low emissions. And even then, it’s still a toss-up.
- If you must drive your kids, try setting up a car pool with other parents in your neighborhood.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to share your tips for sending kids back to school with the Earth in mind in the comments section below! I’m sure all the other green parents out there could benefit from your knowledge!