Eco Back-to-School: Safe and Sturdy Lunchbags and Backpacks

enviro girlOne of the big and necessary expenses of back to school shopping, whether outfitting a preschooler or a college student, is backpacks.  This is one area where you definitely get what you pay for, the investment pays off in longevity and your child’s health and safety.Enviro Girl has three sons of the rough-and-tumble variety.  They ride a school bus and walk a quarter mile through a field to get to and from school each day.  Their backpacks endure a daily beating, plus they get used on weekends and in summertime to haul vacation and Nerf war equipment.  Each of Enviro Girl’s sons carries a Land’s End backpack and they’re all on year 3 or 4.  That’s a testament to quality!  Even though those backpacks cost about $40 each, the kids have gotten between $10-$15 worth of use of them each year.  Compare that to buying a brand new $20 backpack from a Big Box store and having to replace it each year–if you invest in quality, you come out ahead in the second year of use.

When her firstborn was little, Enviro Girl indulged his request for a $25 Batman backpack from Target and it lasted a year before fraying at the seams.  Then she bought him a Transformers backpack which lasted about another year before the zipper fell apart.  Third time around (Enviro Girl’s a slow learner) she bought him a Land’s End backpack and it lasted 3 years before she had to replace it.  Lesson learned!

But why is a quality backpack a health and safety concern?  According to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice:

PVC/Vinyl is unique among most plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives such as phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to your child’s health. Laboratory tests commissioned by CHEJ and the Empire State Consumer Project in 2012 uncovered high levels of phthalates in common back to school products including backpacks, lunchboxes, and 3-ring binders. Over 90% of all phthalates are used to soften vinyl products. These chemicals have been linked to asthma, learning disabilities, diabetes, and other chronic health problems on the rise. Congress has banned phthalates in children’s toys, yet they are widespread in these and other PVC back to school products. Children are at risk from even low-level exposure to these toxic chemicals. In order to protect your child, it’s important to purchase PVC-free school supplies whenever possible. Cancer causing chemicals like vinyl chloride and dioxin contaminate the air from the very beginning of the PVC lifecycle. When PVC is manufactured or burned, numerous dioxins are formed and released. Dioxins are a highly toxic group of chemicals that can cause cancer, and harm the immune and reproductive systems. These, and other toxic chemicals released during the PVC lifecycle, contaminate our children’s bodies and may pose irreversible life-long health threats.

Where can you find a PVC-free backpack or lunch sack for your student?  Land’s End, Hanna Anderson, Garnet Hill, Jansport, High Sierra, LL Bean, Northface, Timbuk2, and Seal Line Gear are some of the brands that are guaranteed PVC-free.

Purchasing backpacks and lunch sacks without vinyl means they’re easily tossed in the washing machine for easy cleaning, too.  When buying lunch sacks that get rugged and daily use, metal or canvas is your best bet for easy-to-clean and chemical free durability.

Buying quality backpacks and lunch sacks means saving money, less consumption, less waste and a chemical-free environment for everybody–kids and grown ups.

Tell the Eco Women:  Do you have a lunch sack or backpack testimony to share?

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7 thoughts on “Eco Back-to-School: Safe and Sturdy Lunchbags and Backpacks

  1. Thanks for the info. We are in our second year of school and will be having another starting next year. Our boys are of the rough and tumble variety too. This is very useful.

  2. My girls carry Lands End and L.L. Bean backpacks and they hold up great. The older girl will be a 9th grader and her kindegarten backpack (which has been retired to weekend use due to its smal size) is still in great shape.

  3. My senior in high school has made packs last about a year and a half, but it’s because we have to buy rolling packs for her. She has scoliosis, of the moderately impactful variety (i.e. she cannot carry a heavy pack for long or her back will ache and hurt more than it normally would), so we have been buying rolling packs for a long time. She just liked them when she was in grade school, then with the diagnosis in 6th grade, We just continued to buy them. It is not easy, nor is it cheap to buy rolling packs. Lands End rolling packs are nearer $80. But I suppose if we’d bought one from them from the beginning, it might have held up better than the others. Mostly, they give out at the bottom, where the plastic platform holds the cloth pack to the wheels. Sometimes the handle breaks. But with the heavy texts she must lug home every night and often all over campus, we don’t have much of a choice.

    • Amy, those backpacks are expensive. One of my girls has one and what surprised me was how heavy it is, even when empty. That said, it is a really sturdy backpack and has held up quite well.

      • Yes, I wondered if the Land’s End rollers were any better than the others….we’ve had them from Jansport and High Sierra, and they both broke at the bottom. Her school has steps, and though she tries to carry it up the stairs, sometimes it just bounces over curbs and sills. Sigh….

      • Amy, the backpack my daughter has seems very well made and has certainly held up to the abuse she’s heaped on it, including dragging it up stairs at school.

  4. Amigo has used Jansport and Lands’ End backpacks on wheels. Jansport has lived up to their warranty; they either repair or replace a backpack with a problem. Amigo is blind, needs a big backpack, needs wheels, and is really hard on his backpack, too.
    When we found that Jansport is a better size for Braille books, I took over his Lands’ End as my own schoolbag. Perfect for a teacher!

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