Sustainable School Prep

Feature Photo: Yellow Background, Blue book bag with supplies spilling out, blue font that reads "Sustainable School Prep"

As we prepare for the school year, the stores are filled with all kinds of amazing new school supplies.  The ads are hyping us all up for the school year with bright colors and bargains. But for the economical, environmental parents, we see through this right? 

Of course, we do! But do we have another choice? Can we prep our children for the school year and still save money and reduce our resource consumption? 

You bet we can! Read on for some of our favorite strategies and products for a more sustainable school prep.

Strategies for a More Sustainable School Prep

When it comes to school preparation, there are a number of things we prepare for so these strategies are looking at school prep in a broad way. 


Use What You Have

The most sustainable thing that you can do is use what you already have. If kids have what they need to start the year, try to avoid buying more.  Find other ways to hype the year that don’t involve a huge shopping spree.  Can you institute a back-to-school movie night or backyard camping adventure each year instead of making a big deal out of shopping for new supplies? The example this sets is HUGE for your children and teaches them the most important part of sustainable school prep.


Bag the New Bookbag

I get it. New backpacks are exciting and can set the tone for the year.  Your children may also be interested in different things or have totally grown out of last year’s character backpack.  Maybe they need a bookbag that can carry more books this year.  But a different bookbag doesn’t mean you have to buy a new one. New-to-me can also be exciting and functional!

When my children started back at pre-school in the summer after taking a Covid-inspired break from school, we only had one backpack for the two children who would be in separate rooms. They also came from a school that provided meals and were about to go to a school that did not. So, big sister Cuteness Everbean passed her Minnie Mouse backpack down to little sister Lovebug.  We bought a coordinating Minnie Mouse lunch box on FB Marketplace for Lovebug and she was set.  We also found a new mermaid lunch box on FB Marketplace and a pre-loved Ariel bookback for Cuteness Everbean.  Four pieces; only one was new and it wasn’t purchased from a store.


Swap Fast Fashion for Sustainable Style

I get it. New school year often means new school clothes– especially when your children are old enough to feel the pressure of looking trendy.  But you can update your child’s wardrobe without being sucked into the fast fashion trend. Take advantage of second-hand options like hand-me-downs from older or larger cousins and friends.  Shop brick-and-mortar thrift stores or online versions like Swap or Kidizen or even Facebook Marketplace.  There are even thrift stores that sell designer clothing.  If you’ve got an older child who is facing the peer pressure of buying new, try putting together a capsule wardrobe of pieces from ethical, sustainable companies. 

And don’t forget to make this a conscious effort that you discuss with your child(ren). Talking points may include: 

  • It takes a significant amount of resources to make new clothes.  It takes 715 gallons of waters to make a single T-shirt.  The average human drinks that much water in 3 years (The Fashion Law, 2019). 
  • Lots of clothing ends up in the landfills. If we buy used clothing, we help that happen less! 
  • Buying clothing from sustainable, ethical sources is more expensive; we may need to buy fewer pieces of clothing. But if we build a small wardrobe with mix and match pieces, we can still have lots of options.


Invest in Reusable Options

As you prepare for the school year, think about any existing opportunities to invest in a reusable product over consumables, such as: 

  • Replace plastic water bottles or cups, juice boxes, etc. with reusable water bottles. Look for ones made of metal or glass.
  • Use a thermos to keep food warm instead of individual microwavable soups or freezer meals.
  • Swap a set of silverware (thrift stores are good for this) for plasticware. 
  • Invest in some reusable zipper bags, reusable containers, or beeswax wraps to replace your plastic zipper bags and plastic wrap. 
  • Consider a reusable notebook over a traditional paper one.


Install the Ecosia Plug-In

Sustainable school prep isn’t just about the materials you have. It’s also about your practices and behaviors. 

The Ecosia plug-in is a simple download and install on Chrome.  By using Ecosia (which works a lot like Google), you support a company who donates 80% of their profits to reforestation. You can see how many searches you’ve done and you can see how many trees have been planted thanks to the donations by Ecosia.  Using Ecosia for school projects can be a really simple way to support sustainable initiatives.  I use it often and it costs me nothing and has little to zero effect on my own projects.



Plan Your School Travel

If you need to travel to school and you don’t plan on utilizing the public school bus service, consider what options you have to reduce your carbon footprint.  Are you close enough to walk when the weather is amenable? Can you make arrangements to carpool? Can you map your route to be the most efficient way to go to reduce gas use?


Support Sustainable Brands & Products

As you are shopping, it’s important that you look for products that are quality products. Look for things with durability.  Seek out items that are made of sustainable materials and/or processes.  One major material to try to avoid is plastic. Whenever possible, look for an alternative material. 

If you intend to send packed lunches, look for ways to make these meals as sustainable as possible.  Reducing meat, eliminating plastic packaging, and buying from sustainable brands are all great ways to reduce the impact of your packed lunches on the environment. For a list of sustainable kid snacks that would be great for school lunches, check out our previous article.

See below for some of our recommendations for sustainable products that make good school supplies.


RocketBook Notebooks & Planners

I love Rocketbook. They reduce paper waste by creating pages that can be written on, wiped, and reused! Another amazing thing about these notebooks is that the entire notebook is recyclable at many recycling centers (though not all; check your local centers).  There is a great community out there that provides hacks for getting the most from Rocketbooks, including templates.

Recycled Newspaper Pencils & Colored Pencils

These writing utensils use upcycled newspaper to create the base of the tool, which makes them a more sustainable option. Check out these colored pencils from the Etsy Shop InBreathe.

Paper Tube Pens & Ink Refills

Pens with Kraft paper tubes reduce plastic waste, which is a huge problem.  Look for an option like this one from the Simply Genius Store. Not only is the tube of this pen biodegradable, you can use any refill, which will extend the life of the pen further. This is a solution that has existed for a long time, but is highly under utilized.

Wheat Straw Bento Boxes

We bought a wheat straw bento box for each child when they began taking lunches to school.  I like that they are biodegradable and made of the “waste” part of wheat.  As a mother, I also like that it’s a safe product to store my children’s food and we can skip the zipper bags and plastic wrap! I am able to send sandwiches or salad or mini charcuterie style lunches in them.  We also got a hot/cup with a lid that can be used for liquid-based lunches like soups or stews.  The set we have includes a spoon & fork, as well. I love this investment! When I am including a charcuterie style lunch, I use my reusable cupcake liners to further divide the bento box. They work great! 

Preparing for school is an exciting time! But it doesn’t have to be wasteful! You can use the strategies above to really reduce your waste and set up for an amazing school year.

Don’t forget to talk to your child(ren) about the strategies you’ve used and the choices you’ve made so that they learn and can be little eco-influencers in their school settings! 

What sustainable options have YOU found for your school preparations? We’d love to hear about your favorite products and strategies for sustainable school prep in the comments.


Best wishes on the school year! 

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