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Bye, summer. Hello, school: 5 Back to School Plastic Alternatives

Updated: Oct 29, 2021


back to school plastic alternatives

For Back-to-School shopping this year, let’s remove the plastic. Here are our 5 favorite plastic alternatives for the upcoming school year.


The dog days of summer are here! And while we’re not quite ready for summer to end, we can’t help but have back-to-school on the mind. There’s nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation surrounding the beginning of the school year, but we don’t love all of the plastic waste generated by this major shopping season.


Unfortunately, your typical back-to-school list is overflowing with disposable plastics, like vinyl binders and pens, not to mention all of the plastic packaging. Luckily, there are ways to reduce your impact on the environment, without forgoing a set of sleek, new school supplies. But before you shop new, we suggest taking stock of what you already have on hand. After all, scrounging up loose pens and forgotten notebooks is a win-win for Mother Earth and your wallet.


This year, instead of hitting up your local big-box store, we encourage you to purchase zero-waste alternatives, instead. We’ve even done some of the heavy lifting for you, by rounding up our 5 favorite zero-waste alternatives. Now, all you have to do is click “buy” to help your kid put their best foot forward, and this year, it’ll be with a smaller carbon footprint.


1. Notebooks, Pencils & Pencil Accessories

We love Wisdom Supply Co. for all of your back-to-school needs. This San Francisco-based Certified B. Corp. was founded specifically to address school supplies' “throw-away” culture and the millions of tons of plastic waste generated each school year.


Their Zero-Waste Elementary School Supply Kit ($42.45) will cover the majority of the items on your K-5 list, including notebooks, pencils, colored pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener, and pencil tin. We love that the entire packet is plastic-free, down to the paint-free pencils and the aluminum pencil case, available in four different colors. While you’re on their site, be sure to add their Zero-Waste Binder (see #3 below) to your cart, as well!


2. Pens

Disposable pens are a major contributor to our plastic problem, with Americans tossing over 1.6 billion annually, and the available alternatives are far from perfect. While a refillable fountain pen is the most environmentally friendly option, it is not really a feasible selection for grade school kids. When you can, we suggest using what you already have at home and sending used pens to Terracycle for recycling.


If you’re out of options and need to buy a new set, we suggest A Good Company. While not completely plastic-free, these come pretty darn close, and the company takes a ton of steps to reduce their environmental impact in other ways, as well. A Good Company’s Natural Grass Pen ($7.99) is made from a blend of natural meadow grass and a small amount of BPA-free recycled plastic. Better yet, it’s durable, refillable, and uses a resource-efficient, closed-loop manufacturing process.


3. Binders

Made of mixed materials, vinyl binders are difficult to recycle, and therefore tens of thousands end up in our landfills annually. Wisdom Supply Co. reports making the only zero-waste binder on the market, which holds based on our research!


Their Zero-Waste Binder ($14.75) is—as the name implies—zero-waste, made out of 100% recycled paper and reusable metal hardware, with refills and replacement covers available. A 5-minute assembly is involved, which aims to combat the concept of guilt-free, continuous consumption. As Wisdom Supply Co. puts it, “If the binders were pre-assembled, the replaceable, recyclable cover feature would be overlooked and the binders would continue to be landfilled once they were worn out.”


4. Lunchboxes

Thanks to Planetbox, opting for a plastic-free lunchbox doesn’t mean missing out on fun patterns and flair! When purchasing one of their eco-friendly, stainless steel lunchboxes, you have the option of selecting from over 30 different magnets to personalize the front.


Their best-selling lunchbox, the Rover ($48.95), features five compartments, which makes the packing easy for the parents and the eating fun for the kids. Not only is this box plastic- and toxic-free, it’s also easy to clean (just stick in the dishwasher!) and leak-proof (includes 2 leak-proof containers for wet foods!).


5. Water Bottles

And of course, we can’t forget about the water! For a reusable option, our partners at MiiR offer a great kid-friendly bottle, featuring an easy-to-sip straw, a grippy silicone base, and leak-resistant lid, and cup holder compatibility. Their Kids’ Rainbow 12-Oz Wide Mouth Bottle ($25) is made of stainless steel—another infinitely recyclable material—and available in multiple different colors.


Mananalu’s new resealable 12 oz. aluminum bottles ($24.00/12-pack) are great for on-the-go—carpools, the school bus, or after-school activities—and our subscription program will keep the water flowing at a 20% discount, without you having to think twice. You might even consider putting all that money saved from reusing pens and notebooks this year towards our plastic off-set program ($25), which removes 100 pounds of ocean-going plastic waste—talk about starting the year off on a positive note!

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