With summer winding down in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s now back-to-school season for many. For parents and guardians, it’s an opportunity to equip your student or students with healthy plastic-free school supplies that minimize waste and maximize usefulness for the year ahead.
Back-to-school time doesn’t have to be filled with plastic wrappers, water bottles, pens, and other single-use plastics. Reusable, refillable, non-plastic school supplies like stainless steel lunch boxes and food storage containers are better for your student’s health, minimizing their exposure to the microplastic particles that all plastic shed.
What’s more, when well cared for, these non-toxic, non-plastic materials and products will last, meaning you spend less time and money on supplies in the long run. Going plastic-free is better for the planet, too.
Read on to find our list of go-to plastic-free school supplies, plus other tips for taking the plastic out of your student’s school year:
Try These 5 Plastic-Free School Supplies
1. Stainless steel food containers
Lunchtime is a common culprit for plastic pollution in a student’s school day. If your student brings their lunch to school, there are many ways to keep the plastic out. Replace the typical plastic zip-top bag, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil with portable, sealable, stainless steel food containers from Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Members ECOLunchbox and Ahimsa. Ahimsa also sells stainless steel foodware.
2. Cotton and wool lunch bags
Once you’ve eliminated plastic from the inside of your student’s lunchbox, it’s time to tackle the lunchbox itself. Used lunch sacks are a good option, and they are widely available at most secondhand shops. Look for plastic-free options such as old-school aluminum lunch boxes, or a lunch bag made from natural materials like this cotton and wool one from Life Without Plastic.
3. Beeswax wrap
From simply covering leftover food to folding up into a handy pouch to hold snacks, beeswax wraps, such as those made by Abeego and Khala & Co, are a useful item to have on hand during the school year. To care for beeswax wrap, simply wash off with nontoxic soap and cold water and let dry before its next use. Replace beeswax wraps when they appear worn out (they are compostable).
4. Plastic-free school supply essentials
Many back-to-school supply lists are unfortunately filled with plastic items (which, even worse, are often sold wrapped in plastic packaging). Shop for an excellent selection of plastic-free back-to-school essentials like notebooks, pencils, markers, papers, planners, and more from Wisdom Supply Co.
5. Stainless steel water bottle
Studies show that there is 50% more microplastic in (plastic) bottled water than tap water. And plastic bottles—like all plastics—contain chemicals that harm human health. In addition to being healthy, plastic-free, stainless steel reusable water bottles are long-lasting, economical, and easy to use and clean. Klean Kanteen sells a wide variety of stainless steel bottles with different unique appearances to appeal to students of all ages, from toddlers to teens.
More Tips for a Plastic-Free School Year
· Shop for plastic free food
First, consider what your kids will be eating: Try to purchase groceries in bulk that are not wrapped in plastic packaging, such as loose fruits, veggies, and nuts. Getting bulk plastic-free groceries is made simple at refill and package-free shops, which allow you to top up your own containers and bags with the food you need. If available to you, consider shopping for food at a farmers market for locally grown, unpackaged produce and goods. Or, buy a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share that will provide you with regular hauls of assorted produced and other farm-fresh foods weekly.
· Reuse what you already own
Before you head to the mall or buy back-to-school supplies online, reuse what you already own to reduce the amount of stuff you need to purchase. It can be a big moneysaver to reuse last year’s backpack if it’s in good condition, or repairable if it’s worn. Older siblings’ school supplies can sometimes serve as hand-me-downs. Three-ring binders, folders, rulers, scissors, and other similar supplies can be used for years if well cared for.
· Buy second-hand
When clothes shopping with or for your student, consider purchasing clothes secondhand and avoid clothing made of plastic. Look for plant-based apparel by checking labels to see if clothing is made from natural fibers like cotton, hemp, linen, cork, and bamboo.
· Advocate for whole-school change
Check out resources such as our Plastic Pollution Coalition Members Cafeteria Culture, an organization educating and empowering youth to eliminate plastic from their schools; and Plastic Free Campus, which has created a step-by-step program for eliminating single-use plastics from schools. Surfers Against Sewage has also created two free accreditation programs, Plastic Free Schools and Plastic Free Communities, which are designed to lead your school or community through replacing single-use plastics with healthy, viable alternatives.
Join Plastic Pollution Coalition and the movement to end plastic pollution; access our members, facts, solutions, and resources.
Individual change matters, but we also need wider solutions to plastic pollution. Send your student back to school plastic-free, and encourage your student’s school to go plastic-free!
On this Earth Day and every day, people all over the world are tapping into their concern for the planet to make lifestyle changes that lessen their environmental impact. One result of widespread ecological awareness is that more people than ever before are asking for products and services that are cleaner and healthier for humanity and nature. Access to such goods and services—when they are made affordable and equitably distributed—can make the transition to a more sustainable life possible for all of us.
Many companies are responding with new marketing and ways of doing business, such as changing how their products and services are produced, packaged, and offered. This includes more reusable and refillable options, which are part of solutions to the plastic crisis. However, other products, particularly some of those used to replace plastics, are marketed as green but in reality can be just as harmful as conventional plastics. Unfortunately, some things now associated with healing our environment do more harm than good, and only distract and delay us from actions that truly do help.
What is “Greenwashing?”
Many activities, organizations, and products bear a green sheen without any substance behind it, or oversell their positive environmental impacts—this is “greenwashing.”
Companies commonly “green” their businesses by packaging unsustainable products in natural-colored or themed packaging, or labeling plastic products as recyclable when in reality they are not. For companies and industries, it’s important to be transparent about the actual impacts of their products and activities. For consumers, it’s important to know how to tell the difference between products and services that actually help, and those that are only made to look like they do.
Corporations Mostly Recycle Myths, Messaging, and Deceptive Tactics—Not Plastic
One powerful example of greenwashing with regard to the plastic pollution crisis is recycling. It seems like every Earth Day, the top corporate plastic polluters launch new campaigns where they tell us that cleanups, recycling, and what they call “advanced recycling” or “chemical recycling”—although more appropriately called “advanced plastic burning”—will solve the plastic pollution crisis. But plastic is pollution from the moment it is created, and we cannot recycle our way out of the problem.
Most plastic collected as recycling becomes pollution, as more than 90% of plastic is landfilled, dumped, incinerated, or shipped overseas—with huge consequences on our health, and driving deep racial and class injustices. Less than 10% of plastic is actually recycled. Yet, companies keep pushing the message that recycling will fix things; check out Coca-Cola Wants You to Recycle Soda Bottles. That Won’t Keep Plastics Out of Your Body, as well as “Plastics Recycling is a LIE.”
People working in the plastics and petrochemical industry have created green-sounding nonprofit organizations like Keep America Beautiful, soliciting not only donations but also volunteer time. Donated time and money to these faux-environmental groups is often dedicated to cleanups, and anti-litter and recycling education. People are made to feel good engaging in these activities, because they are told they are the “right” thing to do. For more information about the tactics used by the plastic industry to block real action to stop plastic pollution, check out Changing Market Foundation’s excellent “Talking Trash” report.
Meanwhile, industry trade groups linked to the deceptive nonprofits spend much time lobbying against legislation that could help curb plastics production. In this way, the industry continues perpetuating the myth that the public is the cause of plastic pollution, when their production of plastic is really the cause. This approach also glosses over the severe and unjust human toll of plastic being made on our planet. Recycling and other false solutions offered by the plastic industry distract and delay fundamental solutions to the plastic crisis: most importantly, turning off the tap on plastics production. (For more information on corporate greenwashing, check out the film The New Corporation.)
How to Avoid Greenwashing
Here’s what to watch out for:
• Use of unclear branding words, such as “green,” “chemical-free,” and “natural”
• Made-up seals of approval on packaging that convey sustainability but are meaningless
• Beautifying logos or advertising for products or services that have a clear negative impact on the environment with elements of nature, such as animals or flowers
• Products obviously made of plastic and dangerous chemicals (like cigarettes) with eco-friendly labels
• Companies making products that harm people and the environment that also make “green” versions of their products — that doesn’t make up for their overall negative impacts
• Data or claims that seem overstated, exaggerated, or misinformed
Make Positive Changes on Earth Day and Every Day
When you’re looking for products, services, and other purchases to help the planet, look for companies that embody the values we need to make positive change—such as eliminating plastic and other packaging from products, and offering refill and reuse options for the things you shop for, from food to personal care items. Many businesses exist that are helpful to people while having a lower impact on the planet; take some time to check out Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Members, like Ahimsa, Pangea Organics, and Meal In A Jar.
When you’re searching for businesses genuinely operating with minimal impact on the environment, look for those that:
- Provide transparent information about their business sustainability practices
- Do not make products with toxic materials or chemicals
- Have reliable third-party certification of their products and services, such as the Blue Standard
- Rely on fair labor practices to run their business
- Design products for reuse, refill, and repairability instead of disposability
- Avoids use of plastics, especially single-use plastic packaging
You can make a positive impact this Earth Day by taking action to address plastic pollution. Use your knowledge of greenwashing to help guide you to better choices this Earth Day and every day.