Guide to non-toxic & eco-friendly school supplies including crayons, markers, glue, lunch gear, backpacks, hand sanitizers and more.
Boxes of #2 pencils. A lifetime supply of hand sanitizer. A new backpack filled with crayons, markers, glue, notebooks…..The dreaded school supply list. Do you have yours yet? Not only does it mark the end of summer but it also means shopping for a bunch of stuff you wish you didn’t have to buy. Worse yet, it might be stuff that is harmful to your kids and bad for the planet.
Why Should We Worry About School Supplies?
First of all, I want to be clear that most school supplies are reasonably safe for our kids to use. We do have regulations in place such as The Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act that mandates all art supplies with hazardous chronic effects have a warning label, and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that tightened regulations on children’s art materials.
However, these regulations can not ensure complete protection. School supplies that contain some very toxic chemicals have been slipping through the cracks. A recent study by U.S. Pirg that included lab testing of products, found toxic chemicals in quite a few common school supplies:
- asbestos (a known carcinogen) in crayons
- phthalates (linked to hormone and developmental problems) in 3-ring binders
- benzene (a probable carcinogen) in dry-erase markers
- lead (a neurotoxin) in children’s water bottles
Plus we have to consider the environmental impact of school supplies – so much paper, plastic and disposables! Clearly we should be paying closer attention to the school supplies we are buying each year.
Resources for Non-Toxic & Eco-Friendly School Supplies
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The good news is that safe and eco-friendly school supplies can be found in many stores these days! However, if I were to recommend one type of store to avoid, it would be dollar stores or other bargain basement type stores. Why? In the study referenced above, many of the products containing harmful chemicals came from these types of stores. I think the pressure to create extremely cheap products leads to dangerous material choices – like the lead and asbestos that’s been found in some school supplies. It’s maddening!
Here are some online stores that I trust for good quality eco-friendly school supplies:
Favorite Non-Toxic & Eco-Friendly School Supplies
Let’s take a fresh look at that school supply list and find ways to make it safer for our kids and better for the planet.
Avoid PVC plastic at all costs. Opt for natural materials like cotton or hemp if possible but durable nylon and polyester (especially if recycled) are very good options.
Look for durable, PVC-free lunch bags and lunch boxes that will last more than one season.
Stock up on reusable lunch containers and snack bags as a replacement for plastic baggies and plastic wrap. Invest in a stainless steel water bottle.
Notebooks, Paper & Binders
Buy paper and notebooks make with recycled paper. Look for 3-ring binders without a plastic cover (or clearly labeled PVC-free).
Pencils & Pens
Pencils made from recycled materials or wood from sustainably managed forests, and pens made from recycled plastic are better for the environment.
Markers, Crayons & Chalk
Definitely avoid cheap crayons which may be laced with asbestos (as mentioned above) – beeswax and soy crayons are nice alternatives. Water based markers are best, but if you must buy permanent markers, make sure they are free from xylene, toluene, and other VOCs.
Misc School Supplies
Most school glue is pretty safe but a plant-based version is better for the planet. If you must buy hand sanitizer, get a non-toxic brand.
What are your favorite eco-friendly school supply sources? Please share in the comments!