Back to School is here and children are excited or defeated depending on which grade they are in. And that leaves parents scrambling to purchase supplies from big box stores in a mad dash. But if you’d like some tips on how to make their time at school safer, less toxic, and kinder to the environment, stick around. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best probiotics, best organic mattresses, and safest cookware, now join us as we go through our 10 real eco-friendly back-to-school tips on how to have a greener and safer return.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Back to School Is Big Business
According to the National Retail Federation, back to school shopping will reach $80.7 billion in 2019. Most of that money is spent on clothing and accessories, which is estimated to average $239.82 for each K-12 child in the home, followed by electronics such as computers, calculators and phones at $203.44, then shoes at $135.96 and supplies such as notebooks, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes at $117.49.
When it comes to where Americans are shopping, most of the time it’s local department stores at about 53 percent, followed by discount stores at 50 percent, online at 49 percent, clothing stores at 45 percent, and office supply stores at 31 percent.
So the question for you here is where do you want to direct your money where you can have the biggest bang for your buck sustainably? Where is the happy spot between affordability and sustainability?Mamavation will help you go through these purchases to show you which ones are the safest for your children while also making a vote with your dollar for a better world.
Mamavation Tip #1: Take An Assessment of Your Actual vs. Perceived Needs When it Comes to Supplies
Before we get into this, ask yourself, do you really need more stuff? Let me explain. Back to school comes every year. And as the years have gone by, I betcha you have a drawer or pencil box where you keep all the old pencils and pens. If you have more than 10 pencils and pens, you basically have enough for one child. The same can be done for crayons, markers, and notebooks. You may already have a lot of these supplies inside your home. Why purchase more stuff? Here’s a list of what to look for inside your home that can be easily re-used and handed over to your children:
- spiral notebooks
- post-it notes
- school supply boxes
- 3 ring binders
Once you’ve found all your supplies from previous years, sit down and make a list of what you will actually need for each child. List in hand, go online here or walk into your local store and purchase what you need.
Mamavation Tip #2: It’s Possible to Find Eco-Friendly Pencils & Pens for Kids. We Found Them!
If you’ve taken a gander at your current supply of pens and pencils and noted that your child will need more, here are some types of pens and pencils that are more eco-friendly.
Here are some favorite pencil brands that use less wood, no wood, or are FSC certified:
- Wopex Pencils are an eco-friendly extruded pencil that only contains about 70% of wood, which means less tress are cut down. Plus? These pencils last twice as long as a regular pencil.
- TreeSmart’s #2 Pencils are made from Recycled Newspaper instead of virgin wood; as TreeSmart has created a way that essentially “turns the paper back into wood” making the pencils just as hard and solid as wood.
- Sprout pencils – Mindful Thoughts Edition – All Sprout coloring and graphite pencils are 100% eco-friendly and lead-free. These pencils are non-toxic, biodegradable, made from sustainably sourced materials and using sustainable production techniques. All of our pencils are of PEFC or FSC certified wood. This means that every time a tree is harvested, another one is planted.
Pens made from recycled plastic are a really good option here, especially since you do not use them for food contact. Here are some of your options:
- Pilot”Bottle to Pen” B2P Retractable Gel Pens Crafted with recycled materials, these “Bottle to Pen” gel pens deliver a smooth performance and are a greener choice – contains 89% post-consumer recycled content.
- BIC Ecolutions Clic Stic Retractable Ballpoint Pens – these pens are reliable retractable ball pen made with 62% recycled plastic
- YAFA Recycled Bottle Pens Made from recycled water bottles from up to 80% of recycled materials
Mamavation Tip #3: Hand-Me-Down & Thrift Store Clothing is The Most Sustainable & Least Expensive Option
Hand me downs and thrift store finds are the most sustainable options and better on your wallet. That’s because the clothing industry is one of the worst polluters of water and natural resources. And the more you buy, the more they pollute. So if you stop purchasing so many clothes, then you’ll stop adding to that problem. Fast cheap fashion has a price that we don’t see at the register because it degrades the environment.
The processing of raw materials used in the production of textiles and the vast amount of water used (2,800 liters per single pair of dyed jeans) contributes to greenhouse gasses that go up into the atmosphere, which are causing an accelerated change in our climate beyond what normally happens.
In fact, the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global emissions. In addition to emissions, there’s the whole problem of petroleum. Over 50 MILLION tons of polyester was produced in 2015, a product which is derived from the same crude oil that makes your ketchup bottles. And now that we have fast fashion, the problem has gotten worse. Cheap clothes that are quickly discarded and thrown away are intensifying the number of greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere. Then about 85% of all textiles produced goes into landfills.
Once I’ve gone through the hand-me-downs, check out the thrift store. Not only do they have a bunch of different styles (some awful, some amazing), but generally they have a lot of children’s clothes because kids tend to grow like little weeds. There’s also garage sales that you can go to early on Saturday and Sunday to browse and treasure hunt. Just be careful not to take more than you need.
Another favorite way to reuse clothes is to attend church sales, where items that are donated are typically very high quality and the sizes are typically vast in range. The downside to these church sales is that they’re highly anticipated and usually crowded, which can lead you to feel like a fish in a can.
Facebook groups are also popping up as a way to buy and trade gently used clothing. So go check out your local mom group on Facebook to see what they are doing there.
Mamavation Tip #4: Don’t Be Fooled By Marketing About Eco-Friendly Clothing. This is What it Really Looks Like.
If you’re stuck and have to buy clothes new (it happens, don’t stress), why not pick up some safe and sustainable clothing. Look for the following fibers and finishes to your clothing:
- Organic cotton: Organic cotton is grown without the use of glyphosate and fertilizers. When you purchase organic cotton, you don’t put cash in the hands of Monsanto anymore, because genetically modified cotton is one of their flagship crops. Over 90% of cotton grown in the United States is genetically modified and likely sprayed with glyphosate, which is an herbicide deemed a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Fertilizers used by cotton farmers also contribute to the widespread pollution in rivers & oceans. The nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff are the primary culprits in the excessive blooms of algae that deplete underwater oxygen levels and kill sea life. These situations are referred to as “dead zones” where no sealife can survive. The hardest-hit area has been the Gulf of Mexico, where the seafood industry has been dwindling from a dead zone the size of New Jersey.
- Industrial hemp: Renewable industrial hemp produces three times more fabric per acre than cotton, and it requires little to no pesticides or herbicides. The new farm bill has increased the amount of hemp that can legally be farmed in the United States, so this option will soon become more popular. Even Levi’s is starting to use more hemp in their jeans.
- Bamboo: Bamboo is a hardy plant that grows quickly and is easily replenished. Companies using an eco-friendly process to prepare bamboo will not have a silky smooth finish to the bamboo. It will feel slightly rough. The more toxic production of bamboo turns the plant into what is basically rayon with a very silky smooth finish. The US Federal Trade Commission mandates that companies using this process must label their products “rayon made from bamboo,” rather than just “bamboo.” Buyer beware.
- Recycled polyester: Recycled polyester is made from recycled soda bottles, cast-off fabrics, and worn-out garments. Recycled plastic is great for reclaiming substances, but sometimes can be bad for recycling dangerous leaching chemicals. Buyer beware for younger children. We would say this is a better use for adult clothing instead.
- Wool: Wool is renewable, naturally fire-resistant, and doesn’t need chemicals to grow.
- Soy cashmere/silk: This fabric is made of the soy protein fiber left after processing soybeans into tofu, oil, and milk. Organic soy would be a preference.
- No Chemical Finishes–Look to see if you can find the Oeko-Tex Standard, which is a certification that limits the use of toxic finishes used to process raw materials. If you can’t find this symbol, take a big smell of the clothing to see if it has a funny “chemical smell” on it. That’s another sign it’s been chemically processed.
- Nontoxic dyes and inks: Most green companies will tout their eco-friendly dyes and inks on clothing labels, but you can call the company if you’re unsure. Another option is to look for “colorgrown” cotton garments, made of undyed cotton that naturally grows in shades of green, brown, beige, and ruby.
- The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): This standard sets both environmental and social criteria for clothing throughout the manufacturing process. GOTS requires that clothing wearing its “organic” label be 95 percent organic and have no toxic dyes or finishes. Manufacturers along the supply chain must comply with GOTS standards to minimize waste and to ensure that workers labor under key norms as established by the International Labour Organisation.
Mamavation Tip #5: When It Comes to Paper, It’s Complicated. Opt For Cane Sugar & Bamboo First, Then Recycled Paper Next, But Beware of Bisphenols.
Paper is one of the more difficult parts of your back-to-school purchases. Most of the time you’ll find regular paper & recycled paper. But we also would like for you to check out cane sugar paper. Let’s go through these options one by one.
Recycled Paper Could Be Hormone Disrupting from Bisphenol Contamination
So what about recycled paper? There isn’t a perfect solution to paper yet, because the recycled paper has been found to contain trace amounts of bispehnols, a hormone-disrupting chemical. Bisphenols, like BPA or BPS, are typically found in paper products like thermal receipt paper, airline tickets, luggage tags, & food contact papers. When they are recycled with the other paper, the recycled paper ends up being contaminated with the bisphenol paper, which is problematic to the hormones of children when exposed in trace amounts.
Virgin Paper Industry is Destroying The Largest Carbon Sink in the World
But at the same time, we don’t want to use virgin paper because it pulls resources from the most important region in the world for capturing carbon–the Boreal Forest in Canada. In fact, the paper industry is the 3rd largest polluter.
According to a report by the National Resources Defense Fund, “industrial logging claims more than a million acres of boreal forest every year, equivalent to seven National Hockey League rinks each minute, in part to meet demand for products in the United States.” Long story short, if you want to become part of this solution, looking for alternatives would be the way to go.
Cane Sugar Paper Utilizes Fiber That Would Have Been Burned
Sugar cane paper is now hitting the store shelves. It’s not as easy to find, but we think it’s great for a plethora of reasons. And if you continue to purchase cane sugar paper, they will continue to create cane sugar paper, so go vote with your dollar for the following reasons:
- Sugarcane bagasse – which is the dry, fibrous residue that remains after the cane juice is taken out is a renewable material because if it is not used, it’s generally burned, so we can easily turn it into paper!
- We get to save trees! No trees are cut down! And it’s using something that is burned and wasted, so we are being resourceful.
- Because it’s made of sugar cane, it’s biodegradable and degrades more quickly than regular paper so it’s safe for all disposal systems.
- Sugarcane paper and notebooks can also be recycled along with regular paper.
- Sugarcane fibers produce very strong paper products.
- Sugarcane fibers are previously unused fibers (virgin fibers) which means that it doesn’t require the same amount of bleaching as other paper
And if you would like to test out some cane sugar products, take a look at some of the products we found online:
- Staples Sustainable Earth Sugarcane Based Multipurpose Copy/Fax/Inkjet/Laser Printer Paper, Recycled Alternative is made from 95% sugarcane fibers
- TreeZero Multiuse Copy Paper Made from Cane Sugar. Using
- Claro Sugar Cane Ecopaper Notebooks Using tree-free paper notebooks for your eco-friendly home, school and office supplies, are environment-friendly and socially responsible. These notebooks are comprised of sugar cane fiber from 100% agricultural waste. 100 blank sheets of “treeless” journal paper made from the discarded stalks of banana trees (or pinzotes), which would otherwise have gone unused.
- Onyx and Green – 5 Subject Notebook composed 180 perforated sheets, 360 pages made with sugar cane paper (college ruled sheets).
- Canefield EcoSeries Cane Sugar Notebook – 192 ruled pages of cane sugar
- Office Depot Sugar Cane Paper Perforated Pads – the sugarcane paper is a by-product of sugar processing, making it an eco-conscious choice for your child going back to school.
Bamboo Replenishes Quickly & Is More Sustainable
Bamboo is another newer eco-friendly option when it comes to paper products, especially for back to school paper and notebooks. Why? Bamboo is known to be a hearty plant that can survive even the toughest types of weather. It grows at a rapid rate, making it more sustainable and eco-friendly than paper made with trees.
And here are some of our favorite bamboo back to school products:
- Onyx & Blue Bamboo Paper Notebook is a nice notebook made of bamboo paper, reducing the potential for bisphenols found in other types of paper
- Eco-Friendly A5 Linen Notebook Features an eco-friendly design with a linen cover and is perfect for the classroom. This notebook includes 80 sheets of bamboo ruled paper
- Hahnemuhle Fine Art Bamboo Fiber Natural White, Smooth Warm Tone Inkjet Paper
Mamavation Tip #6: Find a Solid Non-Plastic Lunch Box & Fill It With Good Food Daily
When I was a kid, having a wicked cool lunch box was the pinnacle of awesome but I’m ashamed that my Transformers Lunch Box was probably made of all things horrible for the environment. Today, parents and kids have a zillion far better choices in lunch boxes.
- LunchBots Large Stainless Steel lunchboxes are my personal favorite for packing the kids lunches daily. They can be easily thrown into the dishwasher afterward and are very easy to stack for storage. They can also take a beating.
- Green Lunch Bento 3-in-1 Stainless Steel Bento Box
- LunchBots Widemouth Thermos for Storage of hot or cold food.
- SoYoung Lunch Bag – Raw Linen, Eco-Friendly, Retro-Inspired and Easy to Clean – these adorable lunch boxes are designed with your child’s health and well-being in mind. These lunch boxes are safely PVC, phthalate, lead, & BPA free.
- LifeStraw offers the first water filter bottle for kids amid growing concern of contaminated drinking water, the LifeStraw Play removes bacteria and protozoa while reducing chemicals like lead in the filtered water. This bottle also gives back to the world as for every bottle purchased, a child in a country without clean water gets clean drinking water for the school year. This product is made of plastic, but if your child is going to school in a place that has lead in the pipes, plasticizers are your least concern.
- TIBAOLOVER Lunch Bag is a non-toxic, eco-friendly canvas fabric, insulated, waterproof, lunch box tote made of 100% non-toxic, food-safe. It also has EPE aluminum foam lining (a new packing material with excellent heat-insulating, damp proof, abrasive resistant and anti- corroding function)
Mamavation Tip #7: When It Comes to Backpacks, Avoid PVC and PFAS Chemicals!
One thing many children use as a form of self-expression is a new, cool backpack. As always, if you already have one on hand, use that backpack first – reusing is part of recycling. The older my children have become, the more interesting and awesome the designs for backpacks have evolved.
Some of the things as a parent, you’ve got to look out for are PVC and PFAS chemicals. Here’s the skinny on PVC and why you don’t want it near your children – Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is a major source of phthalates. Phthalates interfere with children’s health and development by messing with natural hormone functioning. It’s been linked to birth defects in baby boys, testicular cancer, liver problems, and early onset of puberty in girls – which is a risk factor for later-life breast cancer. PVC contains dangerous chemical additives including phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to your child’s wellness. These toxic additives can leach out or evaporate into the air over time, posing unnecessary dangers to children.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for a safer back to school backpack:
- PVC products are usually labeled with the words “vinyl” on the packaging
- PVC may be identified by looking for the number “3” inside, or the letters “V” or “PVC” underneath, the universal recycling symbol.
- Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead.
Here are some of our favorite backpack brands:
- FAVORITE is Fjall Raven, which is a Swedish brand that avoids PFAS chemicals, which is very difficult to find in the United States. They use recycled wool, organic hemp and Tencel®; good, such as recycled polyester, G-1000 Eco and traceable wool; OK, like polyamide, cotton, metal buttons; and those we don’t use, such as PFCs, PVCs and angora wool. THIS IS THE SAFEST BRAND FOR GETTING OUTDOOR & WATER REPELLANT CLOTHING AS WELL.
- SoYoung Grade School BackPack is made of raw linen, is eco-friendly, non-toxic, washable, and is safely PVC, phthalate, lead, & BPA free. Also the designs are adorable.
- Bixbee Backpacks are PVC-free, phthalate-free, lead-free, and BPA-free and as a bonus, for every backpack purchase, Bixbee donates a schoolbag with supplies to a kid in need. Comes in dragon or kitty designs.
- LEGO Unisex Minifigure Heritage Classic Backpack Main body is constructed with premium-quality recycled PET fabric; lining has bright LEGO brick print YKK zippers have custom LEGO brick pullers Materials are CPSIA compliant and free of PVC, lead and phthalates
Mamavation Tip #8: Look for Organic, Local, & Natural Food
When it comes time for you or your child to pack a lunch for school (school lunches are, spoiler alert not good for your child) and feeding kids well can feel like a never-ending battle. We have some ideas for you. After reading about 50 types of organic, delicious snacks. Take a look at the rest of our food and beverage investigations.
Food & Pantry Investigations by Mamavation
- Organic Dairies
- Chips & Salsa
- Protein Powders (includes lab reports!)
- Meal Replacement & Protein Bars
- Oatmeals & Oat Based Cereals
- Processed Meats
- Salad Dressings & Marinades
- Peanut Butter
- Canned food
- BBQ Foods
Beverage Investigations by Mamavation
Mamavation Tip #9: Introduce Your Child to Safer Personal Care Products to Protect Their Fertility & Development
Soon as you turn around, your child becomes a pre-teenager. Along with the lovely mood swings and temper tantrums comes the need to take care of oneself. That’s fine and (maybe not-so) good, but did you know that some products that you use as a teen, deodorant, shampoo, lotions, and hair dyes can affect your pre/teen for life. Here are some of the studies that we at Mamavation have created in order to help you and your pre/teen make the best decisions out there.
Personal Care Product Investigations by Mamavation
- Face Wash & Moisturizers
- Hair Styling Products
- Hair Dye
- Shampoo & Conditioner
- MLM Companies
- Dental Floss
- Toilet Paper
Mamavation Tip #10: Walk More Often
One of the best gifts that you can give your children – one that will benefit them throughout their lifetime is to walk with them and help them create a love for the outdoors and activity. If you’re close enough, walk your kids to school. Why is walking with your children such an important thing to do?
- 30 minutes of walking each day has massive impacts on nearly all of your body systems
- Walking increases cardiovascular fitness
- It helps to strengthen your bones
- Walking may reduce excess body fat
- Boost muscle power and endurance.
- Walking 30 minutes/day can shockingly reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and even some cancers!
- Walking makes you healthier, and being healthier means you save money on medical bills
- It reduces the emissions from car traffic
- Walking can help save money on gas that can really add up!
- Starting a walking tradition trains our kids to continue walking throughout their lifetime!
Now that you’ve read our back-to-school tips on how to have a more eco-friendly school year, do you have any additional tips to share with us? Or do you have any additional products you’d like for us to check out for our next edition? Thanks for stopping by!