An Earth-Friendly, American-Made Back to Grade School Shopping List

by - Thursday, August 18, 2016

sweet 90's kids on the first day of school with a sonic trapper keeper and a sunflower romper

Alright, it is that "Back to School" time of year again, and honestly, I remember loving it as a kid. When else could I get my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper with awesome Lisa Frank folders, none of which would get much use during the year (organization has never been my game). I also loved getting dressed up for the first day  of school- I mean, come on! Who can step to that freshness!? It's a sunflower hat and a jumpsuit for goodness sake!

On the other hand, businesses like to create a panic that your students NEEDS about 100 things. Not true! My Dad, over at Curmudgecation, wrote a blog from the teacher's perspective about what exactly needs bought for Back to School- his bottom line? Chill. You don't need as much as you think, and good communication with the teacher might surprise you about what can be helpful to send with your student to school. If you really want to help them out, a box of tissues (which you can get recycled!) might be a lot more help than buying yet another single glue stick to dry out by the end of the year.

So, I feel for all the youths getting ready to shop for all the new possibilities and wonderfulness of a school year. I also feel for parents- how do you tackle this time of year without spending a bunch of cash on stuff they won't use andcan't be recycled? Still, there are some good options out there, so you can put money into things that use less energy, can be recycled, and create less waste.

Think of this list less as a prescriptive "YOU MUST HAVE" and more as a "If you want this, look here at a more Earth-friendly version!" The very first step in greening your household and shopping is to reject acquiring things you don't want or need (no matter how many lists tell you it's necessary- if you find your student does need it, you can always buy it then!).

The trick to making sure your bubs have what they need but minimizing your environmental impact takes three steps:

Three Steps to an Earth-Friendly Schoolyear

1. Shop what you already have- Do this first so you can cross things off your list. Yes, it's time to tackle your giant collection of pens and pencils and see what still works. You may have more than you think (and retire all the ones that are just done). Same for notebooks- if only the first few pages are full, you can probably reuse it! Think about getting fun stickers or decorations to make them feel fresh.

2. Get Things Used- Children's clothes are hard to get Made in the US and environmentally friendly. Companies don't want to splurge on ethical labor for kids clothes, because parents generally know better than to shell much out for things that may not make it all that long.

 If your kids are still little, baby consignment stores may still carry clothes in their sizes. Goodwill also has a huge collection of clothes. Buy Nothing circulates kids clothes daily. You can probably still go big on some new stuff, but lessen the blow by trying to fill out their wardrobe with used clothes (and while you're at it, donate what your bub has grown out of- someone else can use that!).  Bigger Goodwills may have craft supplies, notebooks, shoes, or even backpacks your kids will love.  I feel like when we were kids, stigma surrounded doing this, but really, we all wore hand me downs.,

We as a generation of parents can do things differently to show our children the true value of things and to make a better world for them to inherit from us.

3. Buy Things that are Recycled, Recyclable, or Made in the US- You can find a lot of these in local shops (just check the labels!) or make a big Amazon purchase (I only use Amazon to show the product I am talking about- shop where you want to!). It limits your choices, but maybe not as much as you think, and teaching our kids to consider how what they have was made will help them be critical thinkers in the future! I started a list, but I am sure there is more, so let me know what I am forgetting!

paper goods

decomposition book with a lightbulb cover
Decomposition books from Amazon
Notbooks- These Decomposition Books are absolutely genius (100% post-consumer paper, soy ink, even eco-friendly manufacturing in the US!), and they come in so many cool and fun designs that they should be a blast to choose with your student, no matter their age. Kittens in Space really speaks to my Lisa Frank heart, and it looks like you can color it in! 9 bucks is a little steep for a notebook, but it isn't ridiculous, and the price varies dependent on the design. Good job Michael Rogers.

New Leaf makes a basic composition book out of 95% post-consumer waste that is cheaper, though it is made in Taiwan. Still they are sturdy, and maybe a good option for you!

TOPS Second Nature notebooks are also around 4 dollars- they are made in the US, but have a lower percentage (only 40%) of post-consumer recycled content. Not perfect either, but it might fit your priorities, and it has solid reviews!

Mead even makes a recycled paper notebook now (this is the dream- all mainstream companies see the value in taking care of the Earth instead of taking advantage of it). Nothing too spectacular, but they were my favorite books growing up, and these are about 7 dollars a piece.

Onyx and Blue makes a notebook of bamboo paper, which stands as another option if you are looking for an all sustainable option.

Binder Paper- If you would rather go loose leaf (a good argument for that is you can always take the paper out at the end of the year and hopefully cut down on the binders you have to buy), and it can be better for high schoolers, especially in math classes. There are plenty of options for you too!

Ecology also has a 100/ 40% recycled loose leaf paper set.

100% recycled binder
Aurora from Amazon
Binders- My favorite binders are from Aurora- 100% recycled with 70% post-consumer waste content. I think they look cute, and I really like the fabric binding (way to avoid that plastic). Wilson Jones has an awesome set of binders that are made of recycled cardboard and plastic. The simple kraftpaper look is cool too. Hopefully they get more use than poor Lisa.
recycled paper post it notes
Post-its from Amazon

Post-it Notes- One of those things we all have at home, but now they have ones made of recycled paper and plant adhesive, so we can all have too many of these from now on (there are multi-colored pads too, for the younger post-it noters).

Paper folders- Ok, I am underwhelmed by these Oxford folders, and not only because of their lack of neon magical creatures. I think we can do better than 25% recycled material, so I am going to keep an eye out here (also, could decorating new school stuff day be a thing in people's houses? Does anyone out there do that?

Pencil Case- I don't think anyone really uses these, but maybe I am wrong! If you or a (slightly older) person you love prove me wrong, check out Etsy's selection "Pencil Case" with the United States filter pulled up 13000 options, so you can certainly find something American-made and awesome.

Planners- I love a planner. Love it. As an adult, I still relish the new one coming in the mail every August. I am not an organized person, but I like feeling like my time is somewhat managed and that my goals for the day are clearly set out. I don't understand how people live without them! Because planners make life more wonderful, lots of people make wonderful planners. Here are a few:
recycled at a glance weekly planner
At a Glance on Amazon
At A Glance- YES!!! Isn't it awesome when you can get something almost anywhere AND have it be made in America? The At a Glance company even has an eco-friendly option that I love (why they don't JUST do it this way is beyond me). They have 100% post-consumer paper, 50% post-consumer covers, and 90% post-consumer wire. If you see these in stores, please send me a picture so I can be psyched.

Belle Rousseur- They are a planner-making staple on Etsy (over a thousand reviews!) and their planners are comparable to anything you would get anywhere else. They are also consistently very pretty. I like this rainbow leaf one.

House of Doolittle Planners- They make planners in lots of bright colors, weekly and monthly, out of 100% recycled materials, soy ink, and made in the USA. That beats any I bought at Staples when I was in high school, and these might even be cheaper. If you aren't sure how much your student will use their planner, start here!

Gallery Leather- I get a planner every year, and this is the one I got this year. Smart and well-organized (that's important). I do find the leather cover and sepia maps inside pretty funny, since most of my plans in the coming year will be poop and puke-related.

Green Chair Press- Another cool source of planners, including this pencil-covered one. I love the designs and they have a pretty wide selection.

Nude and Loitering Tees- They make upcycled planners. They have one of Ron Swanson. My brain just exploded with happiness. Treat Yo Self.

The Nifty Studio- Sells printable planners, so you could print it yourself at home on all recycled paper if you wanted!

Ninja and Ninj- More pretty designs. All made in Michigan.

SHP Planners- More pretty feminine options. You can also pick which month to start on, so no waste months.

Ruskerville sells a planner for the Hogwarts-headed mini-wizard in your midst. I love this idea, and they have all sorts of goods for geeky type A's at this store.

Printer Paper- Another one of those ones I wonder why I ever printed things on non-recycled paper. Here's the list (2 cents unnecessary)- Printworks (Made in the US, Food containers, 100%),  Aspen (100% post-consumer), Staples Recycled (100% post-consumer), and Hammermill Great White Recycled (100% Post-consumer paper).

other class supplies

Calculator- Someone will have to tell me if you can get graphing calculators made of recycled materials, but if you are looking for a simple option, this Sharp one is a good one.This Onyx and Green one is made of bamboo, is solar powered, and has recycled packaging.
recycled crayons
Crazy Crayons from Amazon
Crayons- Crayolas don't use any recycled material as far as I can see, but their crayons (not everything) are still made in the US, so they beat all other mainstream brands. If you want some recycled crayons, try Crazy Crayons. Etsy has so many amazingly fun options for crayons reusing those crayon nubbins- cupcakes, legos, and hearts, among many others.

Dry-Erase Markers- Pilot Be Green's V Board line has dry erase markers made of 90% recycled materials AND they are refillable, so they are the big winner. Expo makes all of their markers in the US, so that is a pretty awesome mainstream choice.

Erasers- Westcott makes a fun tie-dye set out of 80% post-consumer waste.

zebra eco recycled highlighters
Zebra Eco from Amazon
Highlighters- Zebra has a set of double-ended highlighters (I love that trick) made of 74% post-consumer material.Onyx and Office Depot have recycled lines as well.

Maps- This map of the US from House of Doolittle is printed with Soy Ink on recycled paper.

Markers- Crayola is awesomely USA-made, and this set of markers is also made with recycled plastic! Plus, you can clean them off the walls easily, so making the world a happier place as well. They make their crayons and watercolors in the US as well, though none of the materials are recycled.
pilot bottle 2 pens plastic pen recycled amazingness
Bottle 2 Pen from Amazon
Pens- Plenty of choices here! If you have to buy more pens, there must be a good recycled option for you. Never buy brand new plastic pens again.

My Pick (x 1000)- Pilot's Plastic Bottle Pens- I am obsessed with this Bottle to Pens idea. Even as a bougie pseudo environmentalist, I can see plastic water bottles are the absolute worst: they create more waste to sell you something you can get for free (not to mention gross companies like Nestle taking so much water from the suffering California reservoirs).

 Anyway, making products that specifically use this waste is an awesome idea, so I think these pens kick ass. Plus, I have a bunch and they are genuinely great pens that I would recommend irregardless. The 18 Pack is 20 bucks, so it seems a pretty good deal as well (though it doesn't seem to be on sale on Amazon anymore). Really, no reason not to use recycled pens ever. If we all made this switch, maybe companies could get the hint, and recycled plastic could become a regular part of products like these.

Pen Company of America makes their pens, you guessed it, in America. They also say the tubes are reusable, so I am wondering if you can ship them back. I will let you know when they write me back.

If you are a gel pen kind of person, and who can blame you, they just feel so good to write with, try these Onyx and Green gel pens.

tree smart recycled paper pencils
Tree Smart from Amazon
Pencils- I did not know about these until I started researching this list, but recycled newspaper pencils are a thing and they are all kinds of awesome. You can get them in all sorts of cool patterns, and they sell all over the place on Etsy. Tree Smart sells a set of 24, where no trees were harmed in its making (all out of "yesterday's news)- they have a set of 12 also, and I think both are Made in the US. Fox and Wit on Etsy has pretty color-dipped options. Social Good Co (check out this awesome store!) also sells a beautiufl set with different colors on the bottoms, to give it a bit of pizzazz.

You can also find tons of tree free options in colored pencils (even more than last year, if you want to feel good about the direction of the universe). Ashleigh Nicole Arts sell my favorites, and I think the containers might be very elementary-school friendly. Tombow doesn't make their stuff in the US, but they make beautiful pencils out of recycled materials, so might be worth checking out. Farber Castell has an option for colored pencils, but honestly, it's pretty lame in comparison to these newspaper material pencils.

I hate mechanical pencils, but maybe they are your deal. If so, these Zebra pencils seem great. But seriously, why does anyone like mechanical pencils?

Pencil Sharpener- Simple, but it gets the job done, and is made out of mostly recycled plastic. Good for pencils and crayons.

Rulers- If you can get a wood version, this Woodrow one, 100% made in America, I would lean that way. If you have to get a plastic one, there are Westcott recycled version.

Westcott's mostly recycled scissors
Westcott from Amazon

Scissors- Are you really out or are they hiding somewhere? I know in my Dad's house, they just loved to live in my room.  Westcott's Kleen Earth Line has a set made out of mostly recycled plastic.They also have 8 inch ones, but for whatever reason, they don't look that kid-friendly to me.  Fiskars has a (super high-rated) pair with 100% post-consumer handles.

Tape- Scotch is making efforts to make "Greener" tape with a 100% recycled core, recycled packaging, and plant-based tape. The larger packs could be awesome around Christmastime as well, and it again raises the question why anyone would use regular non-recycled tape.

White Out- They even have white out with recycled packaging now. I feel like this is a thing you are supposed to buy, but never use, but if that doesn't apply to you, you have a better choice now!

packing lunch

This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of greening your school shopping, but changing your approach can make a big difference! You can see more about this here.  You could use a cool set of bento boxes (they even have glass and steel ones- check out Wean Green and Kids Konserve!) to store sandwiches and snacks, and no matter who you are packing lunch for, they can use them much longer.
wean green bento boxes
Wean Green on Amazon

Wean Green- This company makes all sorts of glass Bento Boxes for lunches out of glass with great lids in bright fun colors. Even if one gets lost now and then, it will be better long term environmentally to do these over anything else. Kids Konserve also makes steel storage containers.

Kids Konserve- Not only do they make nice storage containers for lunches, they also make simple lunch sacks, made 100% out of recycled plastic bottles, that would be fine for a young student or one in high school. This option has simple, but universal appeal, and it seems totally within the ordinary. They also have patterned versions.

A little lark robot canvas lunch sack
from A Little Lark
A Little Lark- A Little Lark sells simple cotton bags with all sorts of hilarious and/or adorable designs silkscreened onto them- check out the horses if you are the mom of that girl. Cool and different, but also really affordable.

Lunch Packer- Simple Bag. 100% Post-consumer content Plastic bottles. Perfect, but listed as currently unavailable, so I hope they are holding up.

round little fox backpack made of recycled bottles
Apple Park from Amazon
Apple  Park- These Apple Park lunch boxes are pretty much the cutest lunch boxes ever, and they are made of recycled plastic bottles. Perfect for an elementary aged student and their lunches!

apple and whale sandwich bags
from Olive Street Studio
Olive Street Studio- Olive Street Studio makes sandwich bags in super cute patterns. Perfect for sandwich lunches!
dabbawalla alien in glasses bag
from Dabbawalla
Dabbawalla- This company makes lunchboxes that stand and are biodegradable. I am slightly suspicious, so if you have one, let me know what you think. Still, it's another bright, fun option.

bright color and polka dotted sandwich bags
from Bag it Conscious

Bag it Conscious- this Etsy store makes reusable sacks for lunch bags and sandwich bags- never one time use a ziplock again!


Honestly, your best bet for a cool back pack that was made in America is on Etsy, so be sure to poke around there, but I will point you to some other options I like as well. 

For Little Ones

robot starting to fly backpack for kids
from Beatrix NY
Beatrix Packs- These little bags are for your little little ones, probably pre-school age. They are made of recycled plastic bottles and pure sweetness. Might be a great first backpack!

Apple Park- Also makes bags for the pre-school/kindergarten age group. Can't you see a kindergartner walking in to their first day with this on? They say each bag saves 24 water bottles from being in the land, which makes you wonder why all bags aren't made of recycled plastic bottles. Also, why can't grown-ups carry monkey back packs? I would enjoy that a whole lot.

GJRD Designs- This Etsy shop sells made to order quilted backpacks in the Vera Bradley vein. Not my deal, but I think it would look cute on the right little kid.

bright red holiday backpacks
from Oliday
Oliday- Oliday is one of my favorite Etsy stores, and they have adorable kid backpacks for only 37 dollars! Would totally go for this in a few years.

Sew Blessed- Makes an adorable seersucker bag for little kids.

cute hedgehog backpack sitting on a chair

Cat Bird Creatures- They make backpacks for anyone who is awesome, though they look a little less substantial, so a smaller carrier might be better. And come on. Disgruntled Hedgehog Backpack? Sign me up. This gem of an etsy store is based out of Pennsylvania too!

For Teens and Teachers

bauhaus logo on a backpack made by medium contol.
from Medium Control
Medium Control- This etsy store sells messanger bags  and backback out of simple cotton with a pretty cool looking monogram on them. This all cotton recipe means there are no plastic fibers involved. They mostly come in kind of masculine cuts and colors, but I think they could work for a variety of things even after class is over.

givbags buy one get one so all kids have a backpack
from Givbag Backpacks
Givbag Backpacks- These really sharp backpacks from Givbag Backpacks are made by small seasonal staffs in the United States (they don't sell enough to keep a staff all year), but the best part about them is they are buy one give one, so you can help a kid not as fortunate as yours by buying your high schooler this bag. So cool!

Targus Spruce- This laptop backpack is made of recycled plastic bottles (and you already know that I think that's the business if you have to use plastic). I have carried a Targus laptop backpack for many years, and it has survived international trips and about a thousand security lines. I bet they can handle a high school.

woman wearing simple modern foldover backpack from Intericon
from Intercon
Intericon- Mostly simple, but beautiful bags, and they are handmade in Hawaii! Most are between 70 and 100 dollars, and they also make super affordable lunch bags (you may just see them again on that list!). You were just thinking your bags needed to remind you of summer right? They look like high school/ college age bags to me. Also check Oliday

LL Bean Totes- A classic tote, still made in Maine. I love these bags.

getting snazzy for the first day

Toothbrushes- These Preserve toothbrushes are also made of recycled plastic, so you can start your day with Earth-friendly styles! They have kid-sized ones as well.

city threads green dress
from City Threads on Amazon
Clothes- Oy, as I said before, this an area of slim pickings unless you are willing to shell out some major cash. Buy Used. Buy as much as you can used before you get anything new. This is what I found:

City Threads- This is my current favorite brand for kids. The cotton is soft and the clothes have stood up really well to my toddler. Bright and colorful without trying to be overly kiddish or trendy. Just nice basics to fill the gaps you can't fill from Goodwill or kids consignment stores.

American Apparel is a weird brand with a weird history, but they do manufacture within the United States and offer nice, simple basics for kids.

Green Label makes cute t-shirts with Environmental messages on them. Honestly, I am not granola enough for this (and if you are, you definitely don't need my advice), but maybe one of them will speak to you. I personally prefer something with a little more style like Honest Elements.

1791 is a great American brand, and they always have a few items for kids.

first day of school sign chalkboard
from Rustiq Charm
First Day of School Sign- Please, dear friend, I love you- you do not need a new sign for every year. Buy one small chalkboard or white board (which you can probably get used), and you are set for the rest of your children's school career.

Whooo! We made it through, and you can absolutely rock your back to school shopping this year. Want more shopping inspiration? Check out the Giant List of Shopping Lists!

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