Put your hands up if you loved the ritual of back-to-school shopping with your parents or carers - we certainly did! From carefully picking out our new school bags and uniforms to choosing our pencil cases, pens, and lunchboxes. Selecting all that new gear was a form of self-expression, and that was super exciting!
With many families and caregivers making lots of new purchases, this has a major environmental footprint. In fact, UK parents spend £736 MILLON on back to school basics each year! The good news is, there are lots of ways you can help reduce our back-to-school routine’s impact on the planet.
We know the new term routine is going to look a little different this year. So, let’s reset, and go back to school safely – and sustainably – with eco-friendly school supplies.
Firstly, look around to see what you already have in your home. Lots of us have plenty of supplies already such as pens and notepads which can be reused. Other stationery items like lever-arch files can be upcycled with a sheet of cork contact paper for a clean, modern look.
If you need to shop:
Paper: There are two main kinds of eco-friendly paper. The first is recycled paper, which doesn’t require freshly cut trees for production, reducing deforestation (reducing habitat loss and keeping more oxygen in the air). The second is FSC certified paper, which means that the product was created with sustainable and ethical practices.
Pens: Shockingly, plastic pens aren’t recyclable unless you remove the metal components, which means most actually end up in landfills. Instead, look for options made from biodegradable materials like bamboo or even shop for pens with refills that can be kept for life.
Pencils: Sprout wooden pencils are super cool. They were born to be reincarnated: each contains the seeds of a flower or plant, so when you’ve used it down to the nub, plant it in soil and watch a cute little plant sprout!
Sustainable Backpacks and Uniforms
The most sustainable thing you can do is buy fewer clothes for your kids and encourage them to reuse an older bag if they’re still in good nick.
If you need to shop
Lots of children’s clothes and bags are made from synthetic fibres like polyester as they’re cheaper than organic fibres and often easier to chuck in the washing machine. Unfortunately, every time you wash fabrics made with these synthetic fibres, microplastics are released into our water supplies. As well as that, there aren’t many good systems for recycling plastic fabrics, so most will end up in landfill at their end of life.
If you can, opt for fully biodegradable natural materials like organic cotton, bamboo, linen or wool. You could also look out for more sustainable materials made with recycled plastics, which are usually a bit cheaper and will help to reduce some of that waste – but please note, these will still contribute to water plastic pollution.
And remember, when your kids grow out of their clothes, pass them on to other children to maximise their life span.
Vegan Leather Lunch Bags, available from EcoVibe in three colours. Shop £14.99
Having the kids take their lunch to school can help them learn more about what’s in their food and make healthy choices, learn responsibility by helping to make lunch and give them more time to eat, relax and play during lunchtime.
Lunch boxes: Opting for reusable lunch boxes & bags and food wraps can help you cut down your packaging. We’d recommend choosing plastic-free if you can, with options like vegan leather lunch bags or beeswax wraps as these will last a long time and are fully biodegradable at their end of life. If you’re packing lunches and snacks in plastic boxes, look out for BPA-free options and choose recycled plastics if you can.
Cutlery: Disposable cutlery is a big no-no these days, with cutlery listed as one of the “most deadly” items to sea turtles, birds and mammals by The Ocean Conservancy. Instead, check out our reusable bamboo cutlery made from organic, responsibly-sourced bamboo.
Refillable bottles: Help the little ones (and their teachers and carers) identify their own drinks and keep hydrated. Reusable water bottles use less oil, release less carbon dioxide, won’t pack landfills and are better for water in general than their disposable plastic counterparts. Check out our reusable water bottles here.
At EcoVibe, we understand that choosing environmentally-friendly options can take a lot of time – especially as busy parents and carers! Time is a resource, especially for women, people of colour, people who are disabled, and people with less income.
If you feel you can’t afford to choose green this time or don’t have the time to change everything in one go, remember it’s totally okay to take it one step at a time. Look out for similarly priced options that are even slightly better. Whether that’s choosing a recycled notepad instead of a wire-bound notebook (a nightmare to recycle!) or a plastic lunch box instead of a meal deal, every little helps.
Got any of your own tips and tricks for going back to school safely and sustainably? That's great! Share them with us in the comment section below.
 While cotton is renewable and fully biodegradable, it uses a lot of water to produce and some suppliers use toxic chemicals to produce it. Make sure to choose organic cotton, if you can, as this will help minimise those nasty chemicals!