The 9 Best Eco-Friendly School Supplies of 2021

Kick off the school year sustainably.

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Autumn marks the beginning of a new school year, and with that, the school supplies shopping list may make its way into your mailbox or email inbox. But you can make your back-to-school shopping guilt-free by going sustainable this year.

In 2010, a study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that Minnesota public schools were generating an estimated 483,520 pounds of waste per day. By purchasing reusable, recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable back-to-school items, you’ll be working against the problem of the outrageous daily waste generated on the average school day.

One of the most important things to consider is the packed lunch. How much snack packaging is single-use and ending up in the trash? But that’s not all. You can find sustainable backpacks and sustainable stationery items as well.

We’ve included our picks for the best eco-friendly school supplies below.

The Rundown
A sustainably bagged lunch never looked so cute.
Sustainability and functionality meet with this cool, trendy backpack.
These beautiful notebooks support great causes and are sustainable from nearly every angle.
This pencil’s lifecycle isn’t over once the graphite is used up.
Colorful, lightweight, made with recyclable and biodegradable cardboard.
This tape is 100% recyclable, compostable, and still sticky.
Pack snacks sustainably, from sandwiches to sliced fruit.
This binder is made with biobased and biodegradable renewed materials.
Get all the sustainable essentials in this sleek, minimalist school pack.

Best Lunch Box: MightyNest Kids Classic Lunch Box Essentials Kit

MightyNest Kids Classic Lunch Box Essentials Kit

MightyNest Kids Classic Lunch Box Essentials Kit makes having a waste-free lunch easy. With reusable bamboo utensils and six reusable cloth napkins, you’ll know you’re doing your best for the planet every day. 

Kids will have fun choosing from the variety of pattern and color choices for each item in this kit. The kit also comes with a reusable ice pack and a moisture-resistant cover that will help keep lunches cold for hours. 

Parents can also scour the MightyNest site for zero waste packaging in which to pack sandwiches, salads, and snacks to really up the sustainability of each lunch.

Best Backpack: Terra Thread Sustainable Backpacks for College and Everyday Use

Terra Thread Sustainable Backpacks for College and Everyday Use

There are so many green and sustainable reasons to buy a Terra Thread backpack, but let’s start with the functionality of the pack first. The bag measures 16 x 12 x 5 inches and includes a laptop pouch suitable for up to a 15-inch laptop. In addition, the backpack sports one large exterior pocket, one small interior pocket, and two side water bottle pockets. 

The backpacks are made with 100 percent organic and Fairtrade cotton and colored with dyes that are Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certified. The company offsets 52 pounds of CO2 by supporting reforestation and solar power efforts in India, making these packs carbon neutral. Every purchase donates about 20 meals to Feeding America, so you’ll feel great about where your money is headed.

Best Notebook: Ecojot Jumbo Journals

Ecojot Jumbo Journal

These gorgeous notebooks are sustainable and an ethical purchase from nearly every angle. The 300-page journals use 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper created in a Quebec mill that ranked 17th most responsible company in the world by Corporate Knights.

But that’s not all. The notebooks are sustainable down to the inks and glues used, which are vegetable-based. The boards are obtained from sustainable North American suppliers.

Each purchase donates up to 50 percent of the proceeds to a different charity, such as The Sheldrick Wildlife TrustThe RSPCA of Southern Australia, and Live It Earth. The company also runs a Buy 1/Give 1 campaign that has donated thousands of books to kids in need across the globe. Ecojot was awarded the Ancient Forest Friendly and Order of the Forest Awards by Canopy in 2012. Plus, did we mention the notebooks are gorgeous?

Best Pencils: Sprout Plantable Graphite Pencils 5 Pack

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Sprout-Spread-the-Love-Edition-5-Pack-Graphite-Plantable-Pencils-with-Seeds-in-Eco-Friendly-Wood-Sustainable-Gift-with-Heart-Warming-Quotes/354544577

This five-pack of pencils is much more than that. Each pencil has encapsulated, non-GMO seeds at the end, so when the pencil is all used up, you can plant a spruce tree and watch it grow. Just note that these pencils don't have an eraser.

The pencils themselves are made of sustainably harvested wood, 100 percent biodegradable, and are printed with a positive message or quote. The cardboard packaging is 100 percent recyclable and compostable.

Best Pens: Simply Genius Eco Friendly Pens

Simply Genius Eco Friendly Pens

Simply Genius pens are affordable, functional, and partly biodegradable. They’ve made several improvements over a typical plastic pen, reducing the amount of plastic by more than half. These lightweight ballpoint pens have barrels made of recyclable cardboard. The tips and ends—in five colors—are made of a 50/50 mixture of bisphenol A (BPA) free acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic and wheat stalk. ABS is derived from petroleum and is not biodegradable.

They come in a pack of 100 and depending on where you buy them, you can find them for as low as $0.25 each. The inside parts look like a typical pen. They’re disposable, and only the cardboard shaft is recyclable.

Because they’re cardboard, they’re not quite as indestructible as a plastic pen. Consider giving them as gifts to office mates and students, as stocking stuffers, or to introduce the idea to friends and family.

Best Tape: Life Without Plastic Kraft Gummed Paper Tape

Life Without Plastic Kraft Gummed Paper Tape

We love this tape because it’s made of paper, so it’s 100 percent recyclable and compostable. The glue is made from a natural latex, which doesn’t affect its recyclability or compostability. To use this tape, you’ll simply rip off the amount needed and wet the glue with a sponge or wet cloth, and apply the tape as needed. The glue is strong, so you’ll be able to use less than you’d need with traditional plastic tape. 

The tape can even be used on boxes while moving. The tape won’t lose its strength under weather conditions such as humidity, extreme heat, and cold temperatures. Plus, the tape can last for years.

Best Snack Containers: Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Bag

Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Bag

Stasher Bags are a great alternative to the oft-used disposable, resealable plastic bags. The product comes in a variety of sizes and colors, and there are many packages available offering differently sized starter packs. 

The bags are made of reusable platinum silicone. They are completely free of BPA, BPS, lead, latex, and phthalates, and dishwasher and microwave safe. The company has saved over 1 billion single-use plastic bags from landfills since its beginnings. Plus, a portion of each sale goes straight to high-impact nonprofits working to preserve and rehabilitate our oceans.

Best Binder: Samsill Earth's Choice Eco-Friendly Binder

Samsill Earth's Choice Eco-Friendly Binder

Made with eco-friendly, biobased and biodegradable renewable materials, this binder is eco-friendly and ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) tested to ensure the product will biodegrade in under 5 years when buried in an anaerobic landfill. 

The binder is 1.5 inches and has two pockets inside for additional storage. The clear overlay on front, back, and spine allows for easy labeling for your organization needs. We also like that a portion of the proceeds of each binder sale is donated to the non-profit American Forests.

Best Back to School Kit: Enkel Back-to-School Pack

Back-to-School Pack

Looking for a one-stop-shop for all your sustainable back-to-school tools? Enkel has you covered. This kit includes three of Enkel’s eco-friendly pens and two pencils, made of biodegradable, recycled materials. The pack also includes a bamboo ruler, a bamboo sharpener, and an eraser, as well as a bamboo cup to display the items on your desk, and a linen case for ease of travel. 

Enkel adheres to an “Eco-Payback” system, in which the cost of the resources used for each product is calculated and paid back to organizations that restore the environment.

What to Look for When Shopping for Eco-Friendly School Supplies

These days, you can find a lot of eco-friendly alternatives for school supplies. But it’s important to keep a few things in mind when considering an eco-friendly purchase. You’ll want to steer clear of green-washed products, in which companies make products seem more sustainable than they actually are. Keep an eye out for certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council, Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), and Fairtrade International.

It’s also a great idea to look for products that are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials or close to it. Products that are themselves recyclable, biodegradable, and/or compostable are great options as well. 

FAQs

Where can I find second-hand school supplies?

You can check your local thrift store for second-hand or cheap school supplies. There are also a few discount websites for used school supplies, such as HootofLoot, and eBay. You can also check for local Buy Nothing groups

Another great idea is to check around your own home. You’re likely to find most of the items that an average student needs in your home already!

What school supplies are unsustainable? 

Many traditional school items are unsustainable, especially 3-ring binders, most backpacks, and disposable stationery items. That’s why you’ll want to use keywords like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” when you search online for sustainable school supplies. If it’s sustainable, you can bet the company will let you know. 

Why Trust Treehugger?

This article was written and researched by Nicole Bonaccorso, a journalist who covers climate, environment, and sustainable living. Nicole has covered sustainable products for several years and is cognizant of the impact greenwashing has on the market and the buyer, and she is careful to write about only truly sustainable products that she would consider buying herself.

To compile this roundup, Nicole consulted dozens of third-party reviews, ultimately deciding to include products made from recyclable materials or items that are recyclable, biodegradable, and/or compostable themselves, as well as items that the buyer will be able to reuse for years to come.

View Article Sources
  1. Cioci, Madalyn, and Tim Farnan. “Digging Deep Through School Trash.Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Sept. 2010.