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.

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