Eco Back To School Week: Notebooks, paper, pencils, and more

Recycla’s daughters are going back to school in four weeks (sob) so Recycla knows that shopping for supplies is in her immediate future. But before she and her junior Eco Warriors will step foot into a store to buy anything, they will look carefully at their lists to see what they need and then compare them with the supplies they already have at home.

Both girls already have pencils from last year, so it’s likely that new ones are not needed. They both need colored pencils but instead of buying more, the girls will choose from among the dozens and dozens of colored pencils they already have.  And, while the girls used to skew toward cute binders with pictures of kittens and puppies on them, what they do now is reuse plain ones, but add decorations to the front, such as stickers, postcards from trips, and pages from magazines.

Only after figuring out what they have at home and what they need to buy will Recycla and the girls go shopping. Recycla is encouraged by just how many eco options she has found without too much searching and at a variety of stores, including Target, Staples, and Office Depot.  Her local eco store also has a display of  school supplies that could just about completely outfit her girls for school.  Even better, almost everywhere she goes, Recycla has noticed that eco school/office supplies are more reasonably priced than they used to be and often competitive with conventional offerings.

However, Recycla must stop for a moment to express a wee bit of frustration with binders.  The non-eco binder options in the stores are pretty much all PVC-laden vinyl binders, which is not acceptable to this Eco Warrior.  On the other hand, all of the eco options she saw were recycled cardboard, which means that they can be recycled at the end of their lives.  Unfortunately, this also means that the binders’ lives will be short, as cardboard just does not hold up very well and rarely lasts the entire school year.

One thing most students need is either a pencil box or a pencil bag.  Pencil boxes used to be made of cardboard, but now they’re pretty much all plastic, with occasional metal options.  While Recycla hates to buy plastic, it turns out that those boxes are nearly indestructible — her girls each got one in kindergarten that lasted all the way through 4th grade.  And, when no longer needed in the classroom, the boxes can either be passed along to another younger student or reused for storage at home.  (They’re also great if you’re traveling with kids and need a small container to hold some art supplies or some small toys.)

Now that Recycla’s girls are older, they use pencil bags that have three holes and can be kept in a large binder.  Unfortunately, the options are not terribly eco-friendly and the vinyl bags barely last through the school year.  Last year, the girls found pencil bags at Target that are made of the same material as backpacks, and they lasted throughout the year and will be reused this year. If the girls do need to replace their pencil bags at some point, Recycla could shop for cloth bags at Etsy, as there are hundreds of cute options there.

As for paper, the vast majority of conventional paper products have been bleached with chlorine to make them “paper white.” The problem is that this process creates dioxins.  Buy recycled, chlorine-free paper instead. If you can’t find paper that’s listed as chlorine-free, at least try to find paper that contains recycled content.

Both of Recycla’s daughters use a number of spiral-bound notebooks and pocket folders throughout the year. At the end of each year, she rips out the used pages and recycles them, along with the covers and the spirals, if they are metal. If the notebook is largely used up, the rest of the paper gets used for notes and other writing projects around the house. If the notebook still has plenty of pages in it, it gets saved for the next academic year.

Pocket folders, unfortunately, have a short shelf life. The cardboard ones often need replacing mid-year, while the plastic ones barely limp through until June. Recycla buys only cardboard folders and recycles them when they’ve outlived their usefulness. Again, if you can find pocket folders made of recycled materials and the price difference isn’t too much, go ahead and buy those. Even though it’s a small purchase, they all add up and show manufacturers that consumers want more eco options.

There are a variety of pencils and pens on the market that are either made of recycled materials or can be recycled in some way.  Another thing to consider is buying pens and pencils that can be refilled, so that you can keep the bodies indefinitely and just replace the ink/lead as necessary. Crayons are tricky, as most schools request that students bring in Crayola brand and even specify the size box (8 crayons, 16, 24, etc.). If possible, try to reuse crayons from year to year and, if you’re feeling a bit handy, here’s information on how to recycle them.

One important thing to consider is your overall carbon footprint when you are shopping.  Try to reuse as much as possible before making any purchases. Then, when shopping, seek out eco options if they are available.  If you are planning to order eco supplies online, consider the size of your purchase and if it is worth it to place the order.  For example, Recycla could have ordered sturdy eco binders online; however, she didn’t want to have just two binders shipped to her, as the waste of gas and resources would have negated the fact that she bought earth-friendly supplies.

Overall, Recycla is pleased by how many more eco-friendly supplies are available now than were two years ago when she first started researching the options for this blog.  Not only are there more supplies, but they are available in far more places and the prices have come down quite a bit.  She is heartened by this trend and hopeful to see even more good things a year from now.

Tell the Eco Women:  Will you be buying any eco supplies this year?

The Eco Women are not employed by any of the companies mentioned, nor were they paid to review these products.

Photo credit: Yahoo Images.

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One thought on “Eco Back To School Week: Notebooks, paper, pencils, and more

  1. We buy eco-friendly pencils & paper supplies–always look for recycled content in our paper purchases. And like you, we take inventory before we shop. I haven’t had to buy colored pencils for years and the backpacks & pencil cases hold up very well.

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