Eco-Friendly Tips for Back to School: School Supplies and Clothes

These eco-friendly tips for back to school are sure to lower your impact on the environment–and save you money.

If you don’t have time to do anything else in this article, at least put these eco-conscious notes next to the items on your back to school shopping list:

  • Buy paper products that use 100% recycled content. This includes lined, construction/art and printer paper, notebooks, folders, sketchbooks, sticky notes, etc.
  • Choose plastic products made from recycled content, i.e., pens, scissor handles, binders, protractors, etc. Also, think about buying just one refillable pen for your child. If everyone did this, we could save tons of waste heading into landfills and the air.
  • Purchase pencils that are FSC certified. These are manufactured from reforested wood.
  • Look for items that are produced from alternative energies, such as wind or solar.
  • Buy used or reusable items when possible. All those old school supplies have to end up somewhere, and that somewhere should not be landfills.
  • Lastly, if it’s really time for a new book bag, check out the eco-options at

You can find all of the above, and more, at the following websites:,, and Staples also provides greener alternatives.

Desk/Homework Area:
If your child needs a new desk for homework this year, try finding one at your local flea market or antique store and refinishing it with a fresh coat of low- or no-VOC paint. Unlike that $50 desk from a big box store that will likely start wobbling by next school year, you’ll actually have a quality piece of furniture your child can use up through his or her college days.

Use compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in desk lamps. If you need to purchase a new lamp, check out your neighborhood Goodwill store first. You can always spray paint it to match your décor.

Need storage containers for a desk? You can repurpose a variety of items, and make them unique by using decorative (recycled) papers or painting them your child’s favorite color. Get creative with small baskets, old cigar boxes, shoe boxes, washed out tin cans or glass jars, recycled picture frames made from the back of an old notebook… the possibilities are endless, and fun for you and your son or daughter.

A new school year doesn’t always have to mean new clothes. If you’re child is still young and growing fast, you should probably look into used clothing from friends, family and consignment or thrift stores. You know, before they start caring about what label they’re wearing. This is especially helpful if you’re on a tight budget.

If you’re opposed to used clothes and want new, new, new, at least look for clothes made from organic cotton, hemp or bamboo from retailers like,, and If those don’t satisfy you, at the very least shop at stores with an environmental/social commitment like or And don’t forget to bring your canvas shopping bags with you.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest