I have never ordered a pre-assembled kit of back-to-school supplies. My oldest child used to feel left out when every other child in his class was given ‘the box’ on the first day of school but now he has no problem bringing his decorated shoe box with more carefully selected school supplies inside. At this stage of my parenting journey, I’m not even sure I would pay the money to have a green pre-assembled school supplies kit provided for my children because I think we often forget about reusing with back to school. For the last few years, at the end of the school year, I parked their books and supplies in a bag or box and forgot about them in a closet. This year I combed through previous years of supplies and to my delight I won’t need to purchase many new items! Check out the sets I made from mixed sets of crayons – I have four complete sets for each of my kids!
I wasn’t sure if teachers would mind if supplies weren’t new and I was reminded by a reader and teacher on the MF fanpage that a crayon color spectrum is really more important for your children than the teacher. Purchasing Crayola products goes against so much of what I believe in because they are a huge company that doesn’t have the manufacturing standards I usually support – so it’s been a relief to realize it’s up to my kids if they only want 6 beeswax or soy crayons in art supplies that are made in North America and don’t contain petroleum. The Clementine brand I point to at the end of this article for crayons, markers, and glue are all manufactured in the US and that is important. I of course won’t be purchasing the soy or beeswax crayons this year because I’ve done a great job of rounding up crayons in my own home – reusing is always best! And I’ve made 4 complete sets! But when you need to purchase new, avoid the petroleum, plastic, and antibacterial crap on the market and become your child’s eco warrior with back-to-school shopping!
Where else can you easily up-cycle with back-to-school supplies? You know the little interlined work books for elementary school? I have found more than 10 of these from previous years that only have a few pages filled out . . the rest are blank! I’ve ripped out these pages and will be sending the rest of the blank books with my kids. I have blank printer labels and will be applying these to the front of the books to eliminate the name, grade, subject information my children wrote from previous years. There is a cost savings here and think of the amount of wasted paper each year?!
Other supplies that are still in great condition that we are reusing from previous years? Wooden ruler, O’bon coloured pencil crayons, pencils, duotangs (empty and reuse), scissors, and paint! Now here are some tips for purchasing new back-to-school supplies. This is a great time to talk about commercialism with back-to-school. If you want to keep rolling over school supplies each year, stay away from the licensed folders, pencil cases, backpacks, water bottles, etc. That cute little monkey design or Dora and SpongeBob print might be cute for Grade 1 but they are not babies anymore by Grade 2 and might feel embarrassed by bringing what they once loved at this age. Keep supplies classic and simple – there is a secret to longevity by doing this. I would also encourage not to bring small children back-to-school shopping with you. If it’s just going to be a tantrum or fight for the supplies they don’t understand are poor quality and toxic – let kids stay home. Bring older kids with you and explain why and how you are making decisions on what to buy. Have older children go through supplies from the previous year and save what they’ll reuse. Also have them participate with decorating the up-cycled shoe box to bring supplies in.
I noticed last year and again this year, companies are doing a lot of marketing for Microban and antibacterial products. Examples of this are pencils, scissor handles, water bottle lids (the worst of all in my opinion), and binders. Normally Microban in plastic contains Triclosan which is a chemical that does not belong in back-t0-school supplies. The original use for Triclosan, a strong chemical, was used in surgical rooms. Why would we turn a classroom into the equivalent of a hospital with antibacterial properties? Skip this chemical (look for antibacterial or Microban marketing) and if you are asked why by school administration you can reply “this is a pesticide linked to hormone disruptions, allergies, asthma, skin irritation, eczema, and thyroid problems”. I have found when you explain to teachers the reason behind limiting your children to chemical exposure – that you’re not trying to be difficult – they are very understanding. Probably the biggest product linked to antibacterial and might be on your school list is hand sanitizer. This is an important one to make eco-friendly and the easiest way is to not purchase anything and request that your child is given the opportunity to wash their hands more often. If you are more comfortable knowing he can disinfect quickly – send Cleanwell wipes or spray in your child’s back-to-school kit. Again, unleash your eco-warrior and don’t let the marketing of ‘germs’ pressure you into purchases that use endocrine disrupting chemicals that could lead to an allergy. Here is a personal story about hand sanitizer. The brands that have perfume or strong scent will trigger a reaction with a person (like me) with chemical sensitivities. A person in one of my children’s classes had just applied hand sanitizer (apricot scented) and the 2 minutes I was in the classroom delivering hot lunches, I felt dizzy and left with a headache. Please be aware of the effects of using strong chemicals – if not for yourself but other people.
I’ve also noticed some ‘non-stick’ marketing with back-to-school supplies. Does anyone need teflon on their scissors? I’m not sure what the inner coating of lunch bags that are marketed non-stick but I stay clear! Remember my article on teflon lined diaper bags? Since researching this article I’ve been wary of non-stick lined products that are marketed to clean or wipe up quickly from spills. I stick to 100% organic cotton lunch bags in place of this and love that they are machine washable. Sticking with cotton is just a great way to go with backpacks, gym bags, and sandwich bags because at the end of their life, you cut off the zipper and plastic velcro and compost. That is a great full cycle story for a product…reuse, reuse, reuse and then compost. It’s my favourite kind of story.
The last tip is the most important for back-to-school supplies shopping. Avoid plastic. All plastic. I don’t care if it’s marked free of everything; BPA, phthalates, PVC, etc. At the end of the day, at the end of it’s shelf life – it’s still plastic. We are experiencing the greatest problem in our history with ocean pollution and the leading cause is plastic. Our health has never been so clouded with problems: cancer, asthma, allergies, diabetes, skin sensitivities, endocrine disruption, and more. I don’t trust plastic. Studies have found that many products labeled BPA-free still released chemicals that mimic estrogen. PVC plastic is a known poison to human health and the environment so if you are purchasing backpacks or supplies made from plastic, please ensure it’s marked PVC-free. Summon your eco-warrior and use your nose if buying plastic…don’t put anything in your cart with that strong plastic smell. Did you know that coloured paper clips contain PVC coating? With all supplies, including litterless lunch systems, stick with plain stainless steel. Most supplies like rulers, folders, duo-tangs, and binders have non-plastic alternatives in stores. Pens and markers still appear to be the toughest plastics to avoid with back-to-school. Search out recycled plastic options to lesson your environmental impact. If you see a specific plastic request on your child’s school supplies list from the school, try substituting it with a material you are comfortable with. On my children’s list I see a plastic containers to put supplies. Every year I use a shoe box, my kids decorate it with a best memory from the summer and I’ve never received a complaint. Sometimes the supplies lists we are receiving haven’t been tweaked in many years so it’s more of a guideline. The below picture is of my oldest son’s supplies box from last year. It’s in such good shape we are using it again this year!
I reviewed soy crayons a few years back and loved them! You can find Clementine Soy Crayons via Organically Hatched. These crayons are literally like using butter – they just glide. If your child is happy with streamlining their color selection to 6 – then you should be happy too! And minus the petroleum and colorants used by traditional companies! Actually, you could pickup non-toxic glue, crayons, markers, and paint all at the same time shopping here. There isn’t anything eco-friendly about the plastic surrounding the Clementine markers but they are additive free, without scent. Having discussions about what has influenced your purchases with back-to-school products is a wonderful time to educate children. I’m hoping by going through supplies from previous years and re-using what you can, the ability to afford the slightly higher prices for greener back-to-school supplies is manageable. Your children will become your voice and echo the education. My child was the one in Grade 2 last year telling his teacher that the cleaning supplies they were given to clean their desks were toxic and gave him a headache. We donated bottles of diluted Dr. Bronners for our children’s classrooms until the school switched over the Green Seal certified cleaners. A child’s voice is important and matters – give your children the wisdom and help create Eco-warrior children that inspire change!