New stationery and school supplies has always been an exciting time for most kids (and many adults!). Writing this article brings back memories of fresh stationery and the joys of organizing and reorganizing pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks…Or maybe we were just nerds.
Although, for parents and adults who are aiming to keep school sustainable though, it can bring a sense of dread! Plastic packaging, toxic components, and boxes of unused junk, oh my!
And right now, as we’re publishing this article, Covid-19 is spreading rapidly across the planet and many kids and adults are stuck with home schooling and working from home, meaning many parents are looking to stock up on home supplies!
To help, here are a few strategies for sustainable, low or zero waste school stationery and supplies:
- Use what you already have. Scrounge up loose pens and forgotten notebooks (they’re usually full of mostly blank pages!)
- For things you know you no longer need, consider donating any school supplies that still have a useful life and recycling those that don’t
- See what you can find secondhand. eBay is a good place to look for secondhand online school supplies like books, graphing calculators, and other technology (now that many classrooms and home learning programs require iPads!)
- For anything you weren’t able to check off with the first two, buy new (but sustainable and environmentally friendly). Use shopping for eco-friendly back to school supplies as an opportunity to start teaching your kids about conscious consumerism.
For items you end up having to buy new, this list of the best eco-friendly school supplies (including sustainable stationery) will hopefully help. We’ve tried to find at least one solid sustainable item to fill each major common item.
Most of us need office supplies at some point or another, and the two categories are really all the same. So no matter how old you are, there’s just as much reason to make sure your office (and school) supplies are eco-friendly.
QUICK LINKS FOR ECO FRIENDLY & ZERO WASTE SCHOOL SUPPLIES
- Sprout World Plantable Pencils
- Amber + Rose Recycled Newspaper Pencils
- Onyx + Green Bamboo Pencil Sharpener
- Tombow Mono Natural Eraser
- A Good Company’s Natural Grass Pen
- Firiri Handwoven Cotton Pencil Case
- Michael Roger Inc Decomposition Books
- PML Studio Planter Jotter Notebooks
- Guided Products Recycled ReBinder
- Naked Binder Chipboard 2-Pocket Folder
- Package Free Shop Recycled Tab Dividers
- Printworks Recycled Copy Paper
- PLUS Paper Clinch Staple-Free Stapler
- Lasting Things Paper Tape Cuts
- United By Blue Eco-Friendly Backpacks
- BY COPALA Cork Laptop Sleeve
- Papersmart Studios Recycled Newspaper Colored Pencils
- Earth Grown Zero Waste Crayons
- eco-kids Eco Art Drawing Pad
1. SPROUT WORLD PLANTABLE PENCILS
About Sprout World Plantable Zero Waste Pencils
Ditch the plastic mechanical pencils (and the plastic lead refill tubes) already! How about planting a tree with your used pencil?
Sustainable PEFC-FSC certified wooden Sprout pencils are zero waste and have a non-toxic natural clay and graphite core. Then, instead of an eraser, they’re capped with a biodegradable seed capsule. When your pencil gets too stubby to write with, just stick it in some soil as per their planting guide.
Use the crafting potential of these to teach your child some apartment gardening basics!
Choose from plain graphite, colored pencils, and inscribed sets. The Mindful Thoughts edition, which bears phrases like “All of us need to grow continuously in our lives”, might even help get those creative juices flowing.
About Sprout World
Since 2013, Sprout World has revolutionized “small everyday items with big messages”. This includes their sustainable pencils, makeup pencil, and the original SproutSPOON. All plantable, all zero waste.
The product range seems small, but it’s making a big impact by giving some truly sustainable alternatives to commonly wasted products.
As members of the UN Global Compact corporate citizenship initiative, they’re always working to improve their practices and reduce their impact. For instance, they now only use 30 trees to manufacture 7,500,000 pencils.
For all sustainable business practices, goals, and progress over the years, see the full report.
2. AMBER + ROSE RECYCLED NEWSPAPER PENCILS
About Amber + Rose Recycled Newspaper Pencils
If you’re worried about your kids losing their pencils, another eco-friendly pencil alternative is “tree-free” recycled newspaper pencils. These HB soft graphite pencils are comprised entirely of recycled newspapers and magazines. No wood at all, and they look pretty to boot.
With an easy peel-to-sharpen design, these are great for kids. Just make sure to help them compost the peels to be truly zero waste.
Each pencil is hand-rolled by a Fair Trade certified social enterprise in Sri Lanka. Sets of 5 or 10 come packaged in compostable, unbleached paperboard boxes.
About Amber + Rose
Located in Lewes, UK, eco-friendly school supplies by Amber + Rose are just a small taste of what they make. Their Etsy shop provides many sustainable and thoughtful gifts and eco conscious office decorations too.
Their products are handmade by several different sustainable enterprises and they “reject mass manufacturing”. Lots of their materials are recycled, mindfully sourced and zero waste.
Choose from photo albums, journals, coasters, photo frames, and many more unique items.
3. ONYX + GREEN BAMBOO PENCIL SHARPENER
About Onyx + Green Bamboo Pencil Sharpener
Sharpen your eco-friendly pencils with this double hole eco-friendly pencil sharpener made of sustainably sourced bamboo and recycled stainless steel. At the end of its life, remove the blades for recycling and compost the bamboo body.
It comes packaged with an unbleached cardboard backing printed with soy inks. The only slight downside is the recycled (and recyclable) plastic bit that holds the sharpener inside. This means it’s not totally zero waste, but it was the closest we found on the market.
About Onyx + Green
Onyx + Green specializes in eco friendly school supplies, made mostly with post-consumer and post-industrial recycled and natural materials, like bamboo, stone, cornstarch, ramie, jute, and sugar cane.
In their words: “The greener, the better”.
4. TOMBOW MONO NATURAL ERASER
About Tombow Mono Natural Eraser
The Tombow Mono is a dual-sided eraser made of all-natural rubber latex (to erase pencil) and natural silica sand (to erase ink and some markers). One zero waste eraser for all your mistakes.
The individual erasers are packaged in a protective, 100% recycled pulp sleeve, which can be composted. Avoid the multi-packs because those are bound together in plastic packages.
Tombow has been making art and office supplies since way back in 1913. Their huge stock includes markers, pencils, calligraphy pens, adhesives, and correction tape.
Tombow strives to be eco-friendly. Their environmental policy states that they use energy conservative production methods, recycle and reuse as much as possible, and cooperate with global environmental organizations.
They are working to increase the number of eco-friendly school supply swaps, such as their refillable correction tape.
5. A GOOD COMPANY NATURAL GRASS PEN
Zero waste pens still leave us drawing a bit of a blank. While more sustainable pens exist now, they’re still largely wasteful and greenwashing is still a concern, too.
The truly best zero waste pens, as we’ve mentioned before, are refillable fountain pens. Great for the office, but perhaps less so for the classroom.
That said, you can pick up a fountain pen for a reasonable price and while not totally zero waste either, we feel it’s still one of the best alternatives. A good balance of very low waste while still being affordable. If you look after them they’ll last a very long time. And you can sometimes find great secondhand fountain pens on ebay to reduce your waste further.
Otherwise A Good Company’s Natural Grass Pen (see below) is a good option for kids.
Just remember to gather up all those pens lying around the house and use them first (we know you’ve got tons!). Then send them to Costas Schuler, a.k.a Pen Guy Art or Terracycle, when you’re done so they can be upcycled!
About A Good Company’s Natural Grass Pen
A Good company’s eco-friendly grass pen is made from natural meadow grass and BPA-free recycled plastics. To us, pens are a good use of recycled plastic, especially when they can be refilled which is the case with this pen, making it pretty close to zero waste.
A Good Company’s pens are made in a factory powered from renewable energy from biogas and waste heat.
For every purchase, A Good Company plants trees in Africa to mitigate carbon emissions from production
About A Good Company
Founded by Anders Ankarlid who had become worried about his kids’ future, A Good Company is a climate positive company. They focus on making affordable eco friendly products and they have considered reducing their impact across each step of their production.
They use thoughtful materials like recycled plastics, wheat straw agricultural waste, reclaimed concrete, or easily recyclable materials like stainless steel.
Making eco-friendly office products, among many other things, A Good Company have also created their own shipping materials, made from reused materials, printed with soy ink.
They also work with factories that have ethical labor standards and sustainable resource use.
To lower their emissions, they work with WeForest to plant trees in Zambia where small-scale farmers are benefiting from training and tools while they plant trees.
6. FIRIRI HANDWOVEN COTTON PENCIL CASE
About Firiri Handwoven Cotton Pencil Case
Now you need something to store all those eco-conscious goodies in!
If you don’t have a ditty bag lying around the house check out this line of eco-friendly school supplies from Canada.
They’re 100% cotton zippered pencil bags are available in tons of colors. Each bag is handwoven by underprivileged women in rural Nepal, so as to provide jobs to these poor communities.
The thick, ultra durable weave is designed to last, even when it gets buried under books in a backpack.
The name Firiri is inspired by a popular Nepalese folk song. Vancouver-based founder Valeria Bogdachev started the company to specifically help the women in communities of rural Nepal. They’ve been “empowering women since 2014” with no signs of stopping soon.
Not only does production provide jobs for women, but all profits are donated toward causes like education, free medical camps in Nepal’s Solkha district, and rebuilding rural Himalayan villages destroyed in Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquake.
7. MICHAEL ROGER INC DECOMPOSITION BOOKS
About Michael Roger Inc Decomposition Books
The best sustainable notebooks we found are the Decomposition books by Michael Roger.
These lovely college-ruled decomposition books are an excellent non-toxic and compostable note-taking solution. Each page is made of 100% post-consumer recycled paper. With so many nature-inspired cover designs (which are printed using soy inks), you can get something different for each subject or mood.
Michael Roger Inc also makes spiral-bound notebooks, though we suggest avoiding if possible. Spiral bindings are inherently more wasteful.
About Michael Roger Inc
Michael Roger Inc makes all manner of artist sustainable stationery, including notebooks, sketchbooks, and greeting cards. All are made from recycled content and their production methods are powered by recaptured landfill gas (which is so cool).
This company has been making decomposition books for nearly 70 years when they started with just two designs.
8. PML STUDIO PLANTER JOTTER NOTEBOOKS
About PML Studio Planter Jotter Notebooks
Simple and elegant, these 30% recycled and notebooks bound with wax thread are good for both school, work, sketching, journaling, or just making lists. Choose between blank, lined, or 3mm grid dot sheets (which would be perfect as graphic paper for math class).
These zero waste notebooks measure 5” x 7” and come with a choice of either 30 or 60 sheets. You can also order them either individually or in packs of three or six.
The best part? After you’re done with the notebook, you can compost the pages and plant the seed paper cover to grow wildflowers! The embedded seeds will grow a blend of Snapdragon, Bird’s Eye, Black-Eyed Susan, Clarkia, Sweet Alyssum, and Catchfly.
About PML Studio
PML stands for Pauline M. Lewis, an award-winning artist based in New York. Aside from running this Etsy shop, she creates studio paintings revolving around gender politics, illustrates children’s books, and draws her own comic strips.
In her shop, you will find these notebooks and thicker non-adhesive bound travel journals, as well as a handful of eco-friendly recycled stickers bearing her sketches.
9. GUIDED PRODUCTS RECYCLED REBINDER
About Guided Products Recycled ReBinder
We know, we know…. An undyed zero waste binder is never going to be as cool as the Trapper Keepers you coveted as a kid. But the planet will thank you!
No more synthetic fabric-covered or plastic binders (which are lucky to last even a semester). These recycled chipboard ReBinders are a far more durable choice, with a better end of life when they do wear out. Easily screw out the rings for recycling and throw the rest in the compost! And you could even draw on your own designs!
With 0.5” rings, you can fit about 100 sheets of recycled loose leaf paper. Fortunately, that’s now pretty easy to find at just about any major office supply store.
About Guided Products
Guided Products is guiding the world toward eco-friendly stationery and recycled office supplies. All their products are made of unbleached recycled kraft paper and cardboard, including CD sleeves, record jackets, file dividers, and memo pads.
As members of the Global Store division of Amazon, eco-friendly school supplies by Guided are widely available.
10. NAKED BINDER CHIPBOARD 2-POCKET FOLDER
About Naked Binder Chipboard 2-Pocket Folder
Naked Binder’s unbleached folders are made using 22-point chipboard, which is 100% recycled FSC-certified post-consumer waste. This material is thick and durable, eliminating the need for any toxic coatings, including acids that can harm papers.
Plus, then your kid (or you for that matter) can decorate it as they like.
They’re sold in sets of 25 to minimize shipping and packaging.
About Naked Binder
Why Naked Binder? Because, in their words, “we’re sexy”. We have to agree that simplicity is indeed sexy.
So is the fact that this employee-owned company ensured every element of all their products (which includes folders, 3-ring binders, and tab dividers) is at the very least recyclable, and most compostable. They use no vinyl or plastic to coat things, and the papers are free of lignans and toxins.
Plus, everything is USA-made at their home base in Iowa.
11. PACKAGE FREE SHOP RECYCLED TAB DIVIDERS
About Package Free Shop Recycled and Zero Waste Tab Dividers
Your zero waste binder may help keep the planet clean, but how do you keep it clean and organized? With 3-ring compostable chipboard tab dividers, of course!
These 5 or 8 tab sets are made in the USA out of 85% post-consumer and 15% post-industrial recycled content. With a 13-point thickness, they’re durable and should last well beyond one school year. When they do wear out, you can home compost them.
About Package Free Shop
The brainchild is Trash is For Tossers creator Lauren Singer, one of our favorite zero waste online stores. The Package Free Shop stocks zero waste products from sustainably-minded sellers, across categories like travel, kitchen, bathroom, cleaning, and personal care.
They not only sell plastic-free items but ship plastic-free and operate totally zero waste.
12. PRINTWORKS RECYCLED COPY PAPER
About Printworks Recycled Copy Paper
Not only is Printworks paper made of 100% recycled post-consumer waste (specifically from food and beverage containers), it’s FSC-certified and chlorine-free.
Unlike many recycled paper products that get shipped to Asia and back again, the waste is collected and remade entirely in the USA (only 300 miles from the mill, in fact). This reduces tons of carbon emissions from shipping. And since it comes in 20-pound boxes, you won’t be needing to reorder anytime soon, either.
It’s just as affordable as traditional copy paper, too. We shouldn’t have to choose between paying ourselves and making the planet pay.
Printworks is an office paper-product supply company. They offer colored cardstock, photo paper, printable labels, and CD envelopes. We suggest sticking to their environmentally friendly options, as not all their products are sustainable.
13. PLUS PAPER CLINCH STAPLE-FREE STAPLER
About PLUS Paper Clinch Staple-Free Stapler
A staple-free stapler? Say what?! You mean we don’t have to prick our fingers pulling out staples before composting or recycling anymore?
The PLUS Paper Clinch uses a unique folding technique to bind up to 10 sheets of paper just as staples would… but without all the waste and complication.
It’s also portable, kid-safe, and, according to the reviews, easy to use due to the ergonomic design and minimal force required.
Unfortunately, the body is plastic,but if you take care to make it last, you’re at least saving the staples and making whatever you’re stapling easier to compost!
Based in Beaverton, Oregon, PLUS make a variety of stationery, craft, and office supplies, which includes deco tapes, scissors, notebooks, and their Guard Your ID identity theft prevention stamp.
However, most products are not what we would consider to be zero waste. They are known for quality production, however, which is why their zero waste stapler seems to be the best, more durable one out there.
14. LASTING THINGS PAPER TAPE CUTS
About Lasting Things Paper Tape Cuts
Lasting Things paper tape cuts are made from upcycled 1970s vintage military surplus kraft paper combined with all-natural, compostable acacia gum. To activate the adhesive, just moisten a little bit and stick where desired.
While this brown tape may not have all the advantages of clear tape, these clear biodegradable cello tapes can be problematic when it comes to home composting. Besides, the kraft paper look gives it all sorts of crafty potential, with just as much adhesion power for practical use.
An order includes 97 cuts of 9” x 2.5” sizes. Quite a lot of tape for the price!
About Lasting Things
Based in Hamburg, Germany, Lasting Things owner Nike Praglowski handmakes all her own products to order. In addition to the paper tape cuts, she sells other zero waste goodies like soap bags, reusable facial rounds, produce bags, and these super cute recycled denim booties.
She carefully ensures all materials are either reclaimed vintage or Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) certified. Shipping is plastic-free, too. She actually uses her own paper tape cuts to seal the packaging.
15. UNITED BY BLUE ECO-FRIENDLY BACKPACKS
About United By Blue Eco-Friendly Backpacks
What good are eco friendly school supplies without a way to tote them? When it comes to something that takes quite a beating like a backpack, true quality is what you want, even more than sustainable materials.
United By Blue offers tons of affordable eco-friendly backpacks that are both. Their also are made of natural materials like organic waxed cotton canvas, or vegetable dyed REPREVE recycled polyester. With double stitching and DWR finishes, these are designed to last.
For smaller kids, the Whittier Youth Backpack is a fun and funky option, while the BLUFF Utility Backpack is more suited for a college campus commute. They have many designs and sizes, many with internal laptop sleeves to function as two items in one.
About United By Blue
United By Blue is primarily a sustainable outdoor clothing brand that sells everything the eco-conscious outdoor lover needs. This includes clothing, camp supplies, everyday reusables, and even ethical swimwear.
They’re a certified B-Corp that partners with Fair Trade and GOTS-certified factories and aim to make as little impact as possible (see their 2018 Impact Report). For every product sold, they sponsor the removal of one pound of trash from the world’s oceans. So far, that’s over 2 million pounds.
16. BY COPALA CORK LAPTOP SLEEVE
About BY COPALA Cork Laptop Sleeve
This minimalist, zero waste and vegan laptop sleeve is a great way to protect your hardware in your bag or on your commute. The cork provides some padding and water resistance while the cotton liner protects from scratches.
Cork is also one of the world’s most sustainable materials because it’s harvested by shaving the bark of cork trees, as opposed to cutting them down. This process can be repeated every nine years when the bark fully regrows, for up to 300 years.
At its eventual end of life, just cut out the metal snaps and compost everything else.
While mostly designed for Macbooks, the many different sizes available ensure you can find something for every shape and size of laptop.
About BY COPALA
From Hamburg, Germany, Sujittra loved coming up with “smart and functional designs” out of recycled natural materials like cork, kraft paper, wood, and leaves. Everything she makes is 100% compostable.
She makes lots of other eco-friendly school and office bags, like recycled leaf pencil cases, kraft paper backpacks, and even a kraft paper laptop sleeve (which just features a little less padding than the cork alternative).
17. PAPERSMART STUDIOS RECYCLED NEWSPAPER COLORED PENCILS
About Papersmart Studios Recycled Newspaper Colored Pencils
School isn’t all reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sometimes it’s fun and we want sustainable art supplies to keep that fun, clean and healthy.
Recycled newspaper makes for the best eco-friendly pencils (colored or not) which are great for two reasons: 1) they reduce landfill waste by putting newspaper to a second use; 2) they don’t promote deforestation.
The tightly coiled newspaper held together by earth safe adhesive is sturdy to hold, while the non-toxic colored graphite goes on smooth and extra dark (which they claim provides double the life of traditional colored pencils).
About Papersmart Studios
Papersmart Studios is a small company based in India that makes recycled school supplies, specifically (partially) zero waste pens, and pencils.
They only make four products: regular and colored pencils made of recycled newspaper and pens that are made of recycled kraft paper tubes. They remind us companies don’t have to offer a ton to offer something useful.
Papersmart seems to instill a habit of seeking out sustainable goods for school children by offering special prices to schools.
18. EARTH GROWN ZERO WASTE CRAYONS
About Earth Grown Zero Waste Crayons
Conventional crayons are made of petroleum-based paraffin and are tinted with chemical dyes. To that, we say ‘time to color outside the lines’.
Earth Grown crayons are made of organic, vegan soy wax and mineral pigments that have been certified non-toxic by the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI). All ingredients are sourced from American farms and have been grown without pesticides or herbicides.
Rather than traditional sticks, these crayons come in fun shapes (like dinosaurs and fish) to stimulate kids’ creativity.
They’re also packaged in an uncoated cardboard box with shredded cardboard filling which is 100% compostable.
About Earth Grown
Shop owner Melissa is a mother of three, and “fell in love with making crayons by accident” in 2010. Her grandfather was a soybean farmer, which was largely part of her inspiration to use soy as a material.
She’s based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and hand makes all the sustainable crayons right in her own kitchen.
19. ECO-KIDS ECO ART DRAWING PAD
About eco-kids Eco Art drawing pad
The Eco Art pad is comprised of FSC and Rainforest Alliance-certified post-consumer agricultural waste. Specifically, it’s made from pinzotes, the discarded stalks from banana trees.
Each sheet is solid enough to be suitable for paints, markers, and crayons alike.
For sustainable art supplies, eco-kids have fantastic options. From crayons to playdough, they craft all manner of non-toxic, natural-ingredient based art and craft supplies. Everything a little aspiring artist needs for “creative play, the natural way”.
They’re a family run company based in Maine, where they make everything. And they package in eco-friendly materials, too.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ZERO WASTE SCHOOL AND OFFICE SUPPLIES
Sustainable and eco friendly stationery is a thing. There’s now zero need to buy anything plastic when there are so many alternatives made from sustainable stationery suppliers.
But of course, try to reuse what you have and buy second hand before purchasing something on this list. The most eco-friendly pencil is the one you already own. So instead of letting unused supplies gather dust, make a point to reuse them or donate them to local schools.
For tricky objects like glue (which doesn’t really have a zero waste solution yet – why are there no cardboard tube glue sticks?!), take a page out of your kid’s book and get creative. There are tons of possibilities for DIY eco-friendly school supplies. See this DIY zero waste glue to get started.
Now it’s time for the student to become the teacher. Tell us in the comments: what are your favorite environmental school supplies and zero waste school swaps?
If you liked this article, don’t forget to share it with a sustainably-minded student or eco-anxious parent that’s already panicking about next year’s back to school plastic.