Eco-Friendly or Zero Waste School Supplies

This Wednesday… July turns into August. And many of us start looking forward to the crispness of fall (my favorite season) and new beginnings. As a kid though, August meant one thing. Back-to-school school supply shopping. Walking around OfficeMax… buying the perfect matching notebooks and folders. Ah. Bliss.

Fast forward 20 years and I still get somewhat nostalgic for those beautiful school supplies. I get a little giddy seeing all the new adorable stuff available at Target. BUT — man. The whole thing is super wasteful. The packaging surrounding the supplies and then the ultimate toss to the landfill. Or even just the mass of school supplies that end up dragged to Goodwill when you are 25 and stuck cleaning your childhood closet…

But there is a way to be somewhat mindful of the supplies your kiddos buy while also teaching them about the environment. Win-win. The goal is to find as many supplies as possible that can a. be re-used year over year b. get used up or composted c. get recycled d. at least made of recycled materials to begin with. Also, if you can find something secondhand. That’s great too.

Anything linked below are just examples of the stuff out there (with good reviews). Price points can be across the board but with a little hunting (or thrifting), I’m sure a deal can be had.

Backpacks
Thrift/find secondhand if possible. Or find one made out of 100% cotton. Or at the very least, pick one with a lifetime warranty.

Lunchboxes
Thrift/find secondhand if possible. Or find one made out of stainless steel or 100% cotton. Better yet, thrift a stainless steel lunch box.

Pencil Pouch
Thrift/find secondhand if possible. Or find one made out of 100% cotton.

Notebooks
Find ones made out of recycled material without any weird binding. Like this. Recycle the whole thing when no longer needed. (If it just HAS to have the spiral, try this one. Or this one. And at least recycle all the paper.)

Notebook Paper
Eco-friendly filler paper. Recycle when done.

Construction Paper
100% recycled construction paper. Recycle when done.

Folders
100% recycled folders. Recycle when done.

Crayons
Beeswax crayons! Use it up.

Colored Pencils
Pencils from environmentally well-managed forests.

Markers
Not ideal BUT Crayola will recycle any brand markers (and highlighters).

Highlighters
If your kids’ school is flexible — they now sell eco-friendly highlighter pencils!

Pens
I don’t think many kids want to carry around a fountain pen so best bet… just use up all those random pens given to you over the years at events. Once those are used up, find pens that are made out of recycled materials. And don’t toss your old pens away — send them to Pen Guy Art!

Pencils
There’s a lot of debate over whether regular pencils or mechanical ones are more eco-friendly. I think if you aren’t losing mechanical pencils all the time and find one made out of recycled materials, it’s a great choice. Otherwise, regular pencils without any frills are a good choice. These pencils are neat because they can be planted after they are too small to use to grow plants!

Eraser
Recycled rubber eraser stick. Use up.

Glue
Elmer’s has a natural glue stick. Recycle the packaging when used up.

Scissors
Find one with stainless steel blades and recyclable or biodegradable plastic handles. Maybe like this one.

Ruler
Get the stainless steel one.

Top 5 Eco-Friendly Bathroom Swaps

When first making the swap over to more eco-friendly or zero waste products, it’s hard not to wonder if you’ll also be downgrading on quality or efficacy. Fear not, my friends! It is possible to find products that are both good for the environment AND awesome to use. First up — we’ll be exploring the bathroom items.

  1. The item: Conventional toilet paper
    The swaps: Tushy bamboo toilet paper + bidet
    I LOVE this toilet paper. I buy a massive box of 50 (to get the free shipping) and it lasts a year. The toilet paper is soft and not at all scratchy. It also comes wrapped in paper — no plastic here! In addition, the same company also has some pretty sweet bidets, which we have in our master bath. Another way to reduce the usage of toilet paper (you’ll still need to use SOME but not as much as without a bidet).
  2. The item: Liquid hand soap
    The swap: Dr. Bronner’s bar soap
    Always an easy swap but one a lot of people don’t do. Ditch the liquid hand soap (unless you are near a store that you can get bulk refills from) and switch over to a bar. I love the Dr. Bronner’s bar soap because you can also use it to hand wash clothes and a billion other things. It also comes wrapped in recycled paper (so throw the wrapper in your recycle bin or compost pile).
  3. The item: Liquid shampoo
    The swap: Lush shampoo bars
    My husband and I both use the same shampoo bar and we get a good 6 months out of it. The lather on these shampoo bars are great (especially for my super thick hair) and they are completely package free.
  4. The item: Floss
    The swap: Water flosser
    My husband is all about that dental hygiene life and he loves his water flosser. This significantly cuts down on all those little pieces of floss that end up in the landfill.
  5. The item: Cotton balls + rounds
    The swap: Cotton fabric rounds + cut up old towels
    Another super easy swap that you probably don’t even need to buy anything for. I use cotton fabric rounds to put on toner and remove makeup. Once used, I throw in a little bag that goes in the laundry. Done. To remove nail polish, I use a cut up old dish towel and it works just fine.

What are some of your bathroom swaps?

Plastic Free July Time

Happy July! AND Happy Plastic Free July! Started in Australia, Plastic Free July now reaches over 2 million people across the globe. During the month of July, participants commit to reduce and eliminate plastic use. You can choose to 1. Avoid single use plastic packaging 2. Eliminate use of takeaway items (bags, bottles, straws, coffee cups) or 3. Go completely plastic-free. I highly recommend registering here and committing to even one small change! The Plastic Free July site also has great tips on reducing your plastic waste. Read on to learn about some of the easiest changes you can make this month and links to some past posts if you want to go even more in depth!

  1. Bring your own shoppings bags as well as canvas or mesh produce bags to hold fruits, veggies, and bulk items.
  2. No straws! Learn to say “no straw please” whenever you get a drink at a restaurant or bar. If you MUST have a straw, bring along your own stainless steel one.
  3. Avoid plastic cutlery during your summertime picnics/bbqs/events. Use your usual washable flatware or get compostable wooden cutlery.
  4. Say no to the single use plastic water bottles. I guarantee you have some reusable water bottles laying around the house from some event or another. Commit to using it!
  5. Make your own coffee and tea at home OR bring your own cup to the coffee shop.
  6. Avoid plastic wrap when storing food. Use reusable beeswax wraps, glass storage containers, and compostable parchment paper.

And if you are looking to REALLY get into the plastic free or zero waste life, check out the following:

An exhaustive list of common household items and less wasteful alternatives.

Common swaps you can make for a less wasteful summer.

Ladies — how to have a more eco-friendly period.

Traveling this summer? Check it out.

Have a dog? Get your doggos in on the eco-friendly action.

Need some less wasteful, more reusable items? My zero waste wish list.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Or…. not. I wanted to share some pictures today from my recycling classes with the city. We toured multiple facilities including a single stream recycling plant, a textile recycling facility, and an electronics recycling facility. I think we all have a feeling of “go me!” when you declutter, take things out, and drop them off at whatever place takes that particular item. But then… we kind of forget about it. We forget that our decluttering leads to clutter and trash and stuff elsewhere. So here’s a little reminder that while the stuff is no longer in our possession… they are now stuck being dealt with by someone else. And guys… there’s a LOT of stuff. So just a reminder to be mindful of what you buy to begin with. (Click on the images to see the captions on what you are looking at.)

Common Recycling Questions

Last week, I volunteered with my city at a recycling education table at a local elementary school’s eco fair. I had a ton of fun playing the “sorting game” with lots of youngins (and some of their parents) where participants are asked to sort items in to either a trash or recycling pile. It was interesting to see which items threw people off the most… so here they are. Common — “can I recycle this?” questions answered.

  • Things that threw off parents:
    • Wire hangers. NO. Take these to the dry cleaners!
    • Aluminum foil. Nope. Trash.
    • Styrofoam cups (even with the #6 at the bottom). Very, very few cities actually take styrofoam so the answer is usually no.
  • Things that threw off (young) kids:
    • Tissues, paper towels, napkins. While, yes, this is a paper product… Nope. Compost or trash these.
    • Magazines. The colored paper seemed to throw off some kids so I had to explain that while colorful, magazines are still paper and can be recycled.
    • Cardboard! This one was interesting. The brown color seemed to make some kids associate cardboard with wood (and therefore not recyclable). I had to explain that it was just a really thick paper product.
  • Things that threw off everyone:
    • Plastic/disposable cutlery. A lot of these are actually made out of #6 plastic. HOWEVER, many cities won’t take these (or ultimately wont recycle these) because it’s not cost effective to do so. So this usually falls into the trash pile. Moral: use reusable or compostable cutlery!