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.
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!