As we look forward to the new school year, take a moment to consider the healthiest school supply options for your kids and for the environment. The best choice is to reuse supplies from last year, but if you need to replenish items, here are some things to think about:
- Backpacks. If it’s time for a new one, look for natural fibers and skip those made with PVC. If natural fibers aren’t an option, polyester and nylon are better than PVC. (Check the label for #3, the symbol for PVC, or look for “no PVC” on the label.) Labels don’t always list the material, so you may need to contact manufacturers or visit their websites.
- Lunch boxes. Because they hold food, it’s especially important that lunch boxes be made from non-toxic materials with NO lead paint, PVC, BPA and antimicrobial chemicals. Some options are: cotton lunch bags, BPA-free plastic or unpainted stainless steel. Reuse utensils from home and pack food in reusable, rather than disposable, containers (such as lightweight stainless steel or #1, 2, 4 or 5 plastics).
- Beverage bottles. Skip commercial bottled water — it’s expensive, wastes resources and the water quality isn’t necessarily better than tap. Instead, send your child to school with filtered water and other beverages in a reusable bottle made from BPA-free plastic, BPA-free aluminum or stainless steel, such as Klean Kanteen. Learn more about the downside of bottled water here.
- Markers. Common crayons often contain paraffin wax, which is made from crude oil. Look for alternatives like soy and beeswax. Don’t buy dry-erase and permanent markers, which contain solvents. Be wary of plastic-encased crayons or scented markers — scents encourage kids to sniff them, and the chemicals used in the fragrances are not listed on the label. Try a pencil highlighter instead of the familiar plastic ones.
- Pencils and pens. Pick plain wooden pencils (no paint or glossy coating) made from sustainable wood or recycled newspaper. Skip the scented ones. Try to use recycled ballpoint pens.
- Notebooks and binders. Avoid plastic covers on binders and spiral notebooks; they’re usually made from PVC (#3 plastic). Opt for recycled cardboard or natural fibers instead, or look for “no PVC” on the label.
- Paper products. Look for recycled paper, made from at least 30 percent post-consumer waste (PCW) that isn’t whitened with chlorine bleach. Or consider virgin paper made from alternative fibers or sustainably managed forests. Choose 100 percent recycled tissues and paper towels made with PCW and without chlorine bleach. Avoid added lotion, fragrance and dyes.
- Glue. Try to minimize kids’ exposures to extra-strong or instant adhesives like epoxies, model and “super” glues; they contain toxic solvents. Water-based glues are safer bets, though most are made from petrochemicals. Some better options are: glue sticks, white/yellow/clear “school” glue. Children should not use rubber cement.