Back to School… Naturally

by Guest Writer

The first day of school is just around the corner and that means parents are busy stocking up on school supplies and gear for the new year. With a growing trend for more eco-friendly products, it should be fairly simple for moms to send their kids off to school without leaving oversized carbon footprints.


There are a number of eco-friendly backpacks on the market, they just may not be as easy to find as the backpacks we’re used to seeing. I will say, if you want to be as green as possible, then the first and least expensive option is to use a backpack you already have. My son will be sporting the same Toy Story themed backpack this school year that he used last year. It’s still in great condition and he still loves Toy Story, so I have it pretty easy. Another option, rather than buying a new backpack is to either trade with someone else, or check out some second-hand stores. You’re sure to find some great retro backpacks and in the meantime you’ll be helping the environment by cutting down on products finding their way to the landfill.

For those who have children who insist upon a new backpack (or don’t have one yet), here are some great options:

Kidzsack – This backpack is made of completely recycled cotton and polyester. The backpack comes in several designs that mimic blank coloring pages. Each bag comes with eight non-toxic, washable markers that kids can use to color or decorate their backpacks. When the bag is washed, the bag is once again a blank slate, so kids are not “stuck” with the bag looking the same for the whole school year.

EcoGear – This company is the maker of a number of backpacks suited for all ages. Their bags are made with organic cotton, recycled plastics and toxic-free dyes. For toddlers, they offer their EcoZoo bags which are adorable animal-style backpacks—great for preschoolers. For older kids (and even adults) they have several other backpack lines, including Earth, Genus, Recycle and Rhino II. All are stylish, functional and earth-friendly.

GreenSmart – Like the other backpacks mentioned, the ones from GreenSmart are also made from recycled plastic bottles. These particular bags are great for kids who have a laptop to carry back and forth, as these bags have a dedicated laptop pocket. And, with school just around the corner, the manufacturer is running a 40% off sale on their website, making the price more comparable with the other bags mentioned.

Lunch boxes

Like with backpacks, if you have a lunch box that is still in good condition, why not reuse it for a second school year? If that’s not an option with your youngster, then here are some eco-friendly lunch boxes that I think are pretty cool.

Bento Boxes from Laptop Lunches – I especially like these lunchboxes because you can buy them as a kit and they come with containers to store different types of food in once box.  This is great for cutting down on sandwich bag use. They come in a number of designs, and while they are a little pricier than your traditional lunch boxes, these will last for many years. These bento boxes are made of recycled materials, and do not contain lead, BPA, phthalates or PVC. Oh, and did I mention, they’re dishwasher safe!

PlanetBox Lunchboxes– These stainless steel lunchboxes are 100% recycleable, and made of 60% recycled materials. They do not contain any lead, and as per the manufacturer, stainless steel “will not leach toxic chemicals when in contact with food.” These lunchboxes are expected to last for many years, and like the Bento Boxes, these are also dishwasher safe.

OOTS! Lunchboxes – The Dutch design makes for a very stylish and modern looking lunchbox. If you have a very fashionable child, this might be the lunchbox of choice.  It’s made of BPA-free and phthalate-free polypropylene plastic. The containers for this lunchbox are dishwasher and microwave safe.


Let’s face it, kids will need paper if they are in school. The first thing I would recommend before buying any notebooks is to find out what the teachers require. Some teachers like the kids to use a certain type of notebook (I had a 3rd grade math teacher who insisted on black and white composition notebooks. To this day, I’m not sure why.) Additionally, some teachers like a notebook dedicated to only one subject as opposed to multi-subject notebooks. So, before you buy, make sure you have a list so you only buy what you need—this will certainly help you cut down on waste.

When choosing notebooks, I would look for something made with recycled materials and recycled paper. Staples offers some notebooks made from 80% sugarcane as part of their Sustainable Earth line of products. There is also a company called EcoPaper that makes the paper for notebooks out of an array of plant products that would otherwise go to waste. The different types of paper they offer are: banana, hemp, coffee, lemon, mango, sugar and cigar papers.


If you’re like me, you probably aren’t sure about using refillable pens with your grade school child. I keep getting visions of my son covered from head to toe in ink and while it’s a bit comical to imagine, it probably wouldn’t really be funny if it happened.  With that in mind, when it comes to pens for school, I would try to stick with recycled pens, especially ones that can be recycled when you’re done with them. Several companies make recycled pens including Pilot, Zebra, Pentel, and Bic. You just need to read the labels to see how much recycled materials are used in each pen. For example the Bic ECOlutions uses 74% recycle materials whereas the Pentel Recycled RVSP Gel Pen only uses 59% recycled materials.

If your children need pencils for school, Dixon Ticonderoga RENEW Recycled Tire #2 Pencils are a nice option. As the name suggests, these pencils are made from scrapped tires that would otherwise crowd landfills.

Finally, if crayons made your list this school year, a nice alternative to traditional crayons comes from a company called Clementine Art. Their natural crayons are made from soy, and the company boasts that they “bring new meaning to ‘coloring’” based on how the colors spread, blend and layer on the paper. Also a plus is that these are washable with soap and water. I think I want to give these a try!

As you can see, there are number of ways to send your kids back to school, while helping the environment, and even helping your wallet in the long run. Just think of all the money you can save on sandwich baggies! I hope you’ll take these suggestions and put them to use as you head out to the stores to get your children ready for the new school year. Remember, buying them eco-friendly school supplies will not only benefit them now, but also for many years to come.

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