Many people embrace the title “lifelong learner.” I have taken it further to be a lifelong student. From elementary to middle school to high school to undergrad to law school to masters, it is very possible that it’s the first-day fresh start that keeps me coming back for more.
And what says “first day of school prep” like a good old-fashioned school supply list?
There are a couple things we are looking for when we are prepping for the first day of school or doing a mid-year re-up on school supplies: 1) convenience because, unfortunately, School Year Prep Day isn’t a national holiday, so we all have a lot going on contemporaneously; and 2) sustainability because we want to make sure we still have a planet to educate our children (or adults) on for decades to come.
In this post, we are targeting a fully eco-friendly school supplies shopping list, and our friends at EarthHero will be the one-stop-shop that’ll help us get an A++ on this assignment.
**And if we recommend a pit stop at another store during your supply gathering, we’ll make a note of it!
The Low-Down on the Eco-Friendly School Supplies Making Our List
EarthHero is an online marketplace that only stocks sustainable products (that make you an EarthHero!). Each product page has some key features you may find helpful. First, you’ll find a sustainability qualification guide with explanations of what each piece means from formal certifications to business and production practices. There you learn what kind of accountability the company has created for itself, how it treats workers in the product’s supply chain, and what kind of materials and processing they use.
You can also review the Sustainability Features and learn more about the company that makes the product right there on EarthHero’s product page.
We’ve picked out some of our favorite products to dive into here, but we’ll list some alternatives to our picks as well in case you want to dive into more exploring, and there are a lot of options beyond what we are highlighting, so go get ‘em, Marco Polo!
The Everyday Backpack by Terra Thread
Terra Thread’s Everyday Backpack is a crowd-pleaser. It’s got a classic vibe with just the right number of pockets—all the ones you need without the ones you can lose things in. It has a laptop sleeve, a front pouch for keep-within-reach supplies, a hanging pouch for quick main-pocket retrieval, and a side pocket on both sides for a water bottle, coffee, or both. Between the fourteen color options, you’ll be able to find one that’s calling your name.
One of the benefits of choosing sustainable school supplies is the great conversation starter they provide when you get the back to school “I like your backpack!” comments. This all-star eco-friendly backpack is made from GOTS-Certified heavy-weight organic cotton, and it’s handmade in a Fair Trade Certified factory. On top of being a B Corp and carbon-neutral company with an eco-friendly focus, Terra Thread also gives back with each purchase. Purchasing this backpack means 20 meals will be donated to children and families in need through Feeding America.
I mean, really. What can’t a Stasher bag do? If you’ve seen our full Stasher Bags review or if you have some of these puppies at home already, you know these reusable silicone bags can be used for anything and everything, including as a pencil case, and all completely plastic-free. Durable and transparent, this mini stand-up Stasher bag puts an end to the blind feel-around for a pen (or crayon)!
A Stasher bag can sit on a desk for easy access, then squeeze back into a backpack or cubby with its flexible silicone. Have a mess? No big deal. Eco-friendly Stasher bags are airtight and dishwasher safe so the mess is contained then eliminated without making a whole leaking scene about it. Stasher bags are an awesome, long-term alternative to single-use plastic or cloth bags that’ll be tossed after a school year worth of stains.
Terra Thread does it again with their laptop sleeve. Here, you’re getting the sustainability and protection you need. Organic cotton on the outside with five color choices that will tempt you with decision-limbo, a padded interior, and an outside pocket that makes your case double as your favorite on-the-go work bag as well.
As you already know, Terra Thread and their products mean B Corp, carbon-neutral, fair trade, handmade, and purchasing this laptop sleeve means 10 meals donated. Oh, and did we mention that GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification’s criteria—which Terra Thread meets—extends from treatment and processing of materials, environmental impact, and workplace safety and fairness?
Food and Beverage Containers
Lunch boxes and bags and everything in them have the potential to carry sustainable school supplies outside the classroom. Eco-Bags’ reusable lunch bag puts an eco-friendly twist on the classic brown paper sack. All the style of the simple classic without the waste, and without the shameful resorting to plastic bags when you realize at the last minute that you’re out of paper bags.
The double-stitched seams make it the most durable sack lunch ever packed, and it’s machine-washable. Also, with the blank (GOTS Certified) canvas in hand, all you need is fabric markers and some creativity to make it 100% uniquely yours. If hard-cased lunch boxes are better for you or your student, there are options for that below as well!
Other Options (and must-have supporting cast):
Sustainable school supplies include your tools and the pieces keeping you healthy throughout the day. Klean Kanteen has followed their eco-friendly mission, run by a brother-sister team that has been in the business of providing BPA-free, stainless steel water bottles since the early 2000s. No matter whether you’re looking for a cool neutral, pop of color, or a sleek black, there’s a water bottle for you. Klean Kanteen also has a large selection of super cute options for kids…so cute, they’re tempting for everyone, really.
In addition to going plastic-free, you’ll enjoy higher performance with Klean Kanteen. The double-wall vacuum in these bottles will keep hots hot for up to 20 hours, and icy colds cold up to 50 hours. Most importantly if making any sort of school trip: these bottles are leak-proof. So, not only are you opting for a B Corp, 1% for the Planet member, but also peace of mind that you won’t have to reckon with a soggy book.
Onyx and Green’s Recycled PET mechanical pencils are made of recycled plastics and are themselves 100% recyclable. They don’t do any special tricks that a typical mechanical pencil could do, except they aren’t adding to the plastic waste created in schools every year, and they do make keeping track of which pencils are yours much easier. Think every person in class is going to be walking around with one of these colorful, sustainable pencils handy? We wish, but likely not.
If you’re looking more for a classic design for your eco-friendly pencil, the Sprout pencils below are such a cool addition to back-to-school prep. You can find those in the “Other Options” below, but do note, these have seeds instead of erasers attached, so remember to buy necessary accessories: erasers and a sharpener!
Onyx and Green is making pens out of all sorts of organic materials. Here, we’ve chosen one set of black pens and one set of blue pens. The Retractable Coffee Bean Black Ballpoint Pen is made from the body of recycled coffee beans combining two of my favorite things: coffee and a good pen. Their Retractable Wheat Straw Blue Ballpoint Pen is likewise sustainable, but made from wheat straw.
Both can be refilled with new ink when you’re out to keep the pen in your hand for as long as you can keep track of it!
The bodies of Onyx and Green’s Recycled fine-tip highlighters are made completely out of recycled plastic, specifically PET water bottles. The finer tip means precise highlighting and even doodling for those illustration-based note-takers among us.
These are currently the only highlighters in the EarthHero marketplace, so if you want something with more thickness, Stubby Pencil Studio has some cool highlighter pencils that avoid the unrecyclable plastic waste common with highlighters. They make their highlighters from Austrian wood (from managed forests) that are biodegradable.
Arts & Crafts
Part of opting for eco-friendly supplies is that you can focus on the work and the play without making a compromise at the planet’s sake. The 12-pack of Honey Sticks Beeswax Crayons is completely free of petroleum-sourced wax and is made from food-grade pigments.
But their sustainability may not be the first thing you notice. You’ll probably note the different shape and size right off the bat, which makes a Crayola set look comically microscopic. Parents with younger kids will see that the larger size makes it easy for them to get a good grip as their creative juices get flowing.
For those who want a little more precision from their crayons, a narrower shape may be a better choice (check the other options below).
Made of recycled newspaper and they come in a 24-pack? Not too shabby! Onyx and Green’s eco-friendly colored pencils come pre-sharpened, but you’ll want a sharpener handy to keep those points sharp.
One thing to consider is that these may be better suited for the big kids. For younger kids just learning colors, it can be difficult to know which color is which, since each pencil is wrapped in the same style (newspaper!). Colored pencils that have bodies the same color as the pigment will be easier to pick out.
At some stages of schooling, there are simply a lot of uses for paint, but I’m partial to the classic watercolor, specifically Honey Sticks Natural Watercolor Paint.
The colors are handmade in New Zealand and, of course, with all-natural, food-grade ingredients. The paints come in a metal tin that’s reusable or recyclable, with a natural wood brush. So, everything down to the accessories pass the eco-friendly school supplies test.
Binders, Folders, & Paper
Make a pit stop at decomposition to find eco-friendly binders. These 1” three-ring binders are made of 85% post-consumer waste materials and can hold up to 200 sheets of paper making them a functional and fashionable alternative to plastic binders.
The different designs all bring home the planet-conscious decision behind them, from hummingbirds, to Big Sur, to the Everglades. These binders let you bring nature into class while still protecting the environment for your weekend adventures.
There was a time when I would opt for 1-subject notebooks—cleanly organized for every period. And you’ll find my old friends below as Other Options for sustainable notebooks along with other accessories to get the job done. After many, many experiences showing up to class with the wrong notebook, I made the jump to a single 5-subject notebook.
Onyx and Green makes the pages from leftover sugarcane pulp giving you a smooth writing experience while using less water and less energy compared to regular paper. The metal side coil means an eco-friendly alternative to plastic coils, of course, but also that the notebook can stand up to rough-and-tumble backpack stuffage, so those important notes can survive the long haul.
Drawing Paper & Sketch Pads
A Good Company’s stone paper sketchbook is not only sustainably made, and you can learn all about the eco-friendly, tree-free stone paper on A Good Company’s website. Most striking about this stone paper notebook is its durability. It’s tear-resistant and water-resistant.
What’s the writing experience with these notebooks? Smooooooth as butter. These blank pages are uniquely smooth to the touch and to the pen, keeping lines extremely precise. One caveat: ballpoint pens tend to bleed slightly (although not through the paper), so if you are looking for crisp lines and are doing detailed drawings with your favorite ballpoint pen, our other option below that uses recycled paper may be a better choice.
In addition to the take-to-class musts, there’s part of the school supply list we often need to get work done that either waits in a home office space or gets packed in a pencil bag. A lot of these supplies are not only made of plastic, but recycling requires special recycling facilities.
TerraCycle Office Supplies Zero Waste Box offers a convenient bundle in small, medium, and large that includes supplies like a zero-waste stapler, tape, pens, scissors, and paper clips.
Like all TerraCycle bundles, zero-waste school supplies are the focus. You can also repack the boxes your supplies come in with old supplies (and office supplies) that you want to throw out but are not easily recyclable. TerraCycle will safely recycle them for you. They accept everything from tape dispensers, desk organizers, card and document filers, binders, calendars, labels, staplers, hole punchers, dividers, paper cutters, correction supplies, pens/pencils/markers, fasteners, paper clips, staples, binder clips, and sticker and label sheet backings. With its return program, it can end up being a package-free shop!
Check out our other options for individual eco-friendly school supplies you may want to add to your workspace, and remember, these are just a few of the options available. Instead of plastic, you’ll find refillable aluminum bottles, sustainably sourced bamboo, zero-waste staplers, and more.
(Don’t) Make Your Mark with Sustainable School Supplies
Sustainable school supplies will get students through the school year and not only move toward eliminating your own school supply waste with plastic-free and recycled content, but reclaim already existing waste through the use of recycled school supplies and materials things like post-consumer plastic materials.
When you opt for planet-friendly alternatives meant to reduce waste, you’ll likely save money with longer-lasting back-to-school supplies as opposed to their disposable counterparts as well. Not to mention, conscious consumerism isn’t a bad lesson to start the school year off!
Co-Founder & Managing Editor, Grow Ensemble
I’m Annie Bright, co-founder of Grow Ensemble. I’m a researcher, writer, and editor with a focus on sustainability, social impact, and human rights.