Green Your Child’s School Supplies

Child in the rain with water bottle

Does your child’s school give you a list of supplies for the first day of school? We can help you choose non-toxic, low-impact school and lunch supplies—and the bag to carry them in.

If you are working to avoid toxics at home, the last thing you want to do it give your child a bag full of toxic supplies to spend the day with at school. We have carefully built up our supply of school essentials with the lowest impact products we can find from ethical companies. Our children use these same products.

Kids Green Lunch Supplies

Our goal is to get good, healthy food to school safely without leaving a wad of garbage to throw away at the end of lunch hour. Waste-free lunch adds up.

Lunchbots Bento Box
Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box

We have a big selection of lunch bags and boxes. One of my favorites is the Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box. I like that it is stainless steel, and I don’t have to send partially plastic containers to school.

Sling Sisters Snack Bags

Reusable snack bags

For snacks and sandwiches, forget the plastic baggies. Sling Sisters reusable, zippered bags can be wiped out at the end of the day or tossed in the wash on cold.

Klean Kanteen Water Bottle
Kids Reusable Water BottleTo keep children from reaching for sugary drinks at school, we need to give them an easy alternative. A small, reusable water bottle is easy to carry around and to refill. The kid-sized bottle has a top that is easy to sip—without being a sippy cup.

Kids Green Classroom Supplies

Recycled Pencils
Recycled Newspaper Pencils

Kids go through a lot of pencils, so you want an option that is low impact without being terribly expensive. We like the Earthzone recycled pencils. They are tree-free, made with recycled newspaper. You can see the newsprint change as you sharpen the pencil. This will be a kid talking point as they figure out exactly how a newspaper was used to make a pencil.

Non-toxic Glue
Non-toxic school glue

Glue is one of those supplies that sneaks in some nasty plastic. It gets on the kids’ fingers; the fingers go in the mouth. You know how it goes. No worries with this glue. This is a safe, odorless, water-based adhesive that holds fast once dry but can easily be removed with water.

Natural Hand Sanitizer
Mint natural hand sanitizer

What do you do to clean up from all of those germy activities? Send your child to the restroom to use the synthetic hand sanitizer with Triclosan and Benzalkonium Chloride? No! This mixture of essential oils and natural materials gives your child a natural way to clean hands. It smells really nice, too.

Dabbawalla Backpacks
Cute kids backpack Dabbawalla

To carry everything, you need a backpack that is easy to clean, because you know it is going to get dirty and sticky every single day. Dabbawalla backpacks and lunch bags are a favorite every year. Kids and parents love these cute bags. Dabbawalla backpacks can be machine washed. The material is insulated as well, so they will keep the cold lunch colder longer and the hot lunch hotter longer. Durable as well as adorable.

Back-to-school Backpack Supplies

Young children wearing SoYoung Mother Backpacks

Are you getting ready for school? I just bought school supplies today. Tis’ the season of sharpened pencils, and I have a few suggestions for eco-friendly back-to-school supplies.


First, your child will probably need a backpack.

We love the colorful characters in our Dabbawalla collection of children’s backpacks. This season, we also have a new backpack from SoYoung Mother. The coated linen exterior is PVC-free. The interior is nylon lined with a zippered mesh pocket to keep gear separated. The best part about the SoYoung Mother backpack is the fully detachable, matching lunch box. It fits inside the pack, if the child has little to carry, but it can attach to the outside of the pack to give more carrying room. The pack is small (9″ x 11″ x 5″), so it isn’t overwhelming for a young child.

SoYoung Mother Linen Child’s Backpack
SoYoung Kid's Backpack at


Next, pencils are one of those iconic basics every student needs.

Our favorite pencils are made not from wood but from recycled newspaper. The unpainted pencils are great because you can see the newspaper the pencil is made from. They sharpen easily, and the 12-pack comes with a sharpener. These are premium pencils from Earthzone, a Canadian company. (Pencils are made responsibly in China.)

Earthzone Recycled Newspaper Pencils
Pencils made from newspaper

Water Bottle

Also, it helps to have a water bottle.

Most kids won’t need to carry a lot of water if there are drinking fountains at school, but it helps to have a water bottle in the backpack for the walk to and from school. A small, 12-ounce Klean Kanteen water bottle is the perfect size. On a warm day, you can add ice cubes easily with this wide-mouth bottle. On a cold day, a hot drink will stay warm up to 6 hours. Leakproof and easy to clean.

Klean Kanteen 12oz Reusable Water Bottle
Reusable Water Bottle Klean Kanteen

Snack Bag

Finally, a snack in the pack might leave your child less tempted to ask for the expensive, unhealthy snacks that a lot of schools have in vending machines.

There are a lot of great snack bags available now. Our newest is the Sling Sisters Snack Bag. These zippered snack bags have cute, cotton prints on the outside with nylon (laminated to be waterproof) on the inside. The 4″ x 6″ size is perfect for a cut up apple or a handful of grapes. These bags are also a good size to fit crayons or a cell phone. Clean in the washer on cold.

Sling Sisters Reusable Snack Bag
Zippered Snack Bag at

I’ll come back next week with reusable lunch boxes and lunch bags.

Back to School Supply Lists

Recycled newspaper pencils for school supplies

For the past month, every store I’ve been in that sells any kind of school supplies has a prominent display of supply lists for every grade. I would just think this is another marketing opportunity for the stores themselves, but my friends tell me that they have surprisingly long school supply lists from their children’s schools.

The school supply list has become ubiquitous in August.

I love school supplies. I love office supply stores. I loved going to work with my mother as a child and raiding the office supply closet. I loved having access to the supply closet at every job I’ve ever had. I just love the smell of newly sharpened pencils. School supplies are definitely a big thing for me.

I was curious how much school supply lists can vary. Since my children are homeschooled, we’re basic pencil and notebook people with a side of glue stick. We bought a few things recently, but we haven’t put too much thought into whether we have every little item. I wondered, though, what I might be in for if I had to send my children back to school next week.

So, I surveyed store lists, which I conclude are way overloaded. Skip those. And, I surveyed elementary school supply lists across Canada and the U.S. I’ve listed a few below.

The Basics

You could probably guess most of the basic supplies. Some of the lists were very specific by brand and type—ONLY glue sticks or absolutely NO glue sticks, for example.

  • Backpack
  • Ballpoint pens
  • Binders and folders
  • Colored pencils or markers
  • Construction paper
  • Crayons
  • Dry erase markers
  • Glue or glue sticks
  • Lunch Box
  • Pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Wide-ruled paper

The Surprises

The biggest surprise to me was cleaning supplies—a lot of them. A New York Times article this month on the evolution of school supply lists mentions a school that asked students to bring garbage bags and cleaning spray. The reason is not mysterious. School budgets have been cut, and schools are no longer able to provide some of the basics. What parents aren’t (and sometimes ARE) paying in taxes is covered directly through the school supply lists.

  • Boxes of antiseptic wipes or baby wipes
  • Boxes of plastic zippered bags
  • Boxes of tissues
  • Braided rug
  • Camp pillow and bath towel
  • Checks to the school for magazine subscriptions
  • Copy paper
  • Paint shirt
  • Rolls of paper towels

Green Your School Supply List

It’s tough to know how to send a lower impact version of zipper plastic bags and antiseptic wipes when schools are specific down to brand. The best chance environmentally conscience parents have is probably working with the teacher, school, or district—whoever generates the school supply list—to come up with options.

You can find green school supplies as more retailers stock recycled and reusable products. If you have some flexibility, you can substitute cloth handkerchiefs for paper tissues, recycled pencils for new-wood pencils, and refillable pencils for throwaway pens.

Back Pack
Dabbawalla Insulated School Backpack

A lot of parents like the Dabbawalla backpack because it is insulated. If your child’s lunch box is not insulated, this is another layer to help keep food cool or warm.

Lunch Box
Goodbyn Lunch Boxes

We covered waste-free lunch boxes last week, since a lot of schools are moving toward waste-free lunches.

Hand Purifier
Clean George Hand Purifier

If you have to provide hand sanitizer, you may as well choose a natural option like Clean George’s Hand Purifier with Tea Tree Oil.

Stockmar Wax Crayons

Beeswax crayons are non-toxic because you know that crayon is going in the child’s mouth.

Clementine Art Natural Markers for Children

Natural markers have no petroleum binding agents and only food-derived colors.

Clementine Art Natural Glue

Traditional glue contains animal and petroleum products, but natural glue uses bio-polymer adhesives.

Colored Pencils
EarthZone colored pencils

EarthZone pencils use 100% post-consumer recycled newspapers and white glue rather than new wood to make their hard bodies.

EarthZone recycled newspaper pencils

EarthZone pencils last up to 3 times as long as wood pencils.

An Unscientific Sampling of Elementary School Supply Lists

I chose only elementary school lists, focusing on Kindergarten when there was a grade-by-grade list.

Central Queens Elementary on Prince Edwards Island

Ottawa-Carleton School District in Ottawa, Ontario

St Frances School in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Adams School in Janesville, Wisconsin

Bentonville Public Schools in Bentonville, Arkansas

Briar Elementary School in Fremont, California

Westgate Elementary in Falls Church, Virginia

Watch Us Live Friday Morning

This Friday morning, August 13th, catch us on CHCH News Morning. The show is live from Hamilton with feeds into Toronto, London and the Horseshoe area.

We’re scheduled for a short time slot just after 8:00AM. It’s a chance to see some of our favorite back-to-school items.

WHEN: Friday, August 13th
TIME: Just after 8:00AM
WHERE: CHCH News Morning in Toronto, London, and the Horseshoe area

DIY Back-to-School Supplies: Re-used Notepad

DIY Reused Notepad finishedDo you get that back-to-school feeling when you buy school supplies. It’s a dangerous feeling. I get it every time I go to an office supply store, which is why I have entirely too many paper products. I’m trying to help my children have that excitement about the beginning of school without tying it to buying.

I asked my children what supplies they need for school this year. We narrowed it down to 3-ring binders (which we have chosen from those we already had on the shelf), pencils (bought new), rulers (hard-edged metal rulers that will last a lifetime), and note paper. We write a lot of notes.

DIY Reused Notepad cutting paperRather than buy new notepads, I keep a pile of paper that is printed on one side to write notes. My son likes to write small notes to me, so we decided to make our own do-it-yourself re-used notepad.


  • 40 sheets of paper
  • paper cutter
  • liquid glue (Elmer’s)
  • newspaper

DIY Reused Notepad cutting paper

  1. Make sure all paper is blank on one side
  2. Cut paper into 4 or 6 pieces per sheet
  3. Tap paper to make one side very smooth
  4. Hold the paper tightly to keep that side smooth
  5. Spread out the newspaper
  6. Squeeze glue onto the smooth side
  7. Spread the glue evenly with your finger
  8. Fan the papers just a bit so the glue goes between the pages a bit
  9. Hold the papers for a couple of minutes until the glue stops running
  10. Set the notepad on the newspaper and let dry overnight

DIY Reused Notepad stack of paperNow, we have a re-used notepad that keeps all of the scratch paper together in one pad. We’re still thinking about how to repurpose old supplies to make the rest.