Life without Plastic

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Essential Zero Waste School Shopping Guide

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This post is all about going to back to school zero waste and plastic-free. This post is for anyone buying school supplies, including public school parents, homeschooling parents, college students, and college professors, etc. 

The first step is to refuse waste before it even begins. As a parent who isn't homeschooling, talk or send a note with your child to their teacher(s) asking them to minimize laminating this year (which makes paper and plastic un-recyclable). Ask them to instead think before they laminate and then place anything they would normally laminate (for use more than once, like tracing pages) into sheet protectors instead. If you are a teacher or professor who laminates, follow the suggestion to use sheet protectors instead.

The second step to save money on school supplies and reduce your waste, check out your local thrift stores first, preferably not during back to school season to avoid competition. You can also ask your local Buy Nothing Project and Freecycle groups for things on your list and get them for free. 

The third step is to look through and reuse what you already have on hand. I had one jumbo box of crayons that lasted me about 10 years, so I didn't need crayons every new school year. This is with me being quite the artist back in my elementary years, not a good one, but there were plenty of works.

If you have refused the supplies you don't need, reduced what you do need, and are reusing what you can, then here is an almost plastic-free and zero waste alternative school supply list. Be sure to ask for plastic-free, recycled and bare-bones packaging in the notes to the seller. Life Without Plastic does this automatically, so you can just tell them thank for their efforts if you buy anything from them. This is why we love them!: 
  • Backpack- This backpack is higher price, but is made nearly plastic-free with hemp and cotton fabric and metal zippers. (The zipper teeth look like they are plastic though.) It seems pretty durable and is neutral-colored enough that it could be used for either gender. It even has a one year warranty. Whenever the time comes to buy a backpack for either of our kids for trips or what have you, this is the backpack I will buy. Here is an article on how to make different kinds of repairs when backpacks wear out in different ways. Here is how you can recycle your backpack when you don't need it anymore.
  • Natural Plastic-Free Insulated Lunchbag- Made of wool to keep your lunch either cool or hot, this all natural lunch-bag is easy to clean and large enough to hold a complete meal, including any containers. My girls are still little, but I'm totally buying one for each as they once get past the "sharing the diaper bag" stage.
  • Stainless steel water-tight food storage container- These replace Ziploc bags and Tupperware for school lunches or bigger work lunches. They are totally plastic-free and are durable enough for any age. If you are worried about breaking your jars or eating from a glass jar (which can be hard to reach down into), these are perfect. Imagine just washing these with your normal dishes and never having to buy sandwich bags again. 
  • Newspaper pencils- Once I finally stop finding pencils I need to use up, these are on our home-school supplies list. These are made from recycled newspaper and come without plastic packaging. I have always had a great experience with Life Without Plastic's minimalist plastic free packaging.
  •  - These erasers come in a 36 pack, which means less packaging for you and you get to delay buying erasers for the foreseeable future unless you have a large crowd. If 36 seems like a lot, split the lot with your friends so you all can save on the packaging and shipping! I prefer to buy a bunch and not have to worry about it again for while.
  • All-metal pencil sharpeners- These can be easily recycled if or when they ever break since they aren't mixed materials like most pencil sharpeners. Bare bones and plastic-free packaging, which we love. 
  • Beeswax Crayons for Older Kids & Beeswax Crayons for Younger Kids-  I like both of these products. I buy for the largest age group served, so I prefer the younger kid ones, which are both easier to hold but more expensive than the ones for older kids.
  • Refillable fountain pens & red, blue, and black ink in glass- These replace those pesky disposable plastic pens that just stop working randomly. I would recommend buying one fountain pen for each color needed and the ink for each as well. These should last a long time and just need to be refilled when they stop working. You can also refill ballpoint or gel pens, if you prefer to use what you already have.
  • Colored newspaper pencils- These replace both highlighters & colored pencils, can be erased if needed and last a lot longer than highlighters. Just toss into your compost pile when you're done.
  • Refillable markers- This is one of my biggest zero waste discoveries! (This isn't a plastic-free option though.) You can fill these with whatever colors you want and refill them! You can even make your own colors with this Food Coloring Markers Tutorial and decorate food with the same ones. You can also fill the markers with your Homemade Natural Food Dyes, so you know they're safe. If you still have old markers, this is where you can recycle your old markers as you use them up. You can suggest a collection at your school, if you are feeling some Mother Earthy vibes.
  • Stainless steel 12 in ruler- This is more durable than a wooden one and no trees were chopped for the making of this ruler. This should last you a lifetime.
  • Cellulose tape- This replaces "regular" tape, works the same, and is completely compostable after you are done with it. Minimal and plastic-free packaging.
  • Stainless steel scissors- These are completely plastic-free and can be recycled whenever they break. If they start just cutting weird, try realigning them. If they are dull, try sharpening them.
  • Used USB flash drive- You probably have several of these lying around somewhere in your house, but if you don't and need them for school, buy used whenever you can.
  • Used graphing calculator- These are affordable when you buy them used and expensive when you buy them new. They can last quite awhile as well, so you can sell it again if you only need it for a short time. Mine got passed down to my younger brother when I was done and it worked fine for him too.
  • Print your own index cards- This was a cool random find. Instead of buying lined index cards (wrapped in plastic), buy a cheap template and print as needed on one-sided paper or junk mail for your own notes to save paper.
  • Recycled folders- Instead of buying virgin paper folders, buy ones made from recycled paper. Brownie points if you reuse them again and again by gluing on labels you made from junk mail.
  • Recycled cardboard binders and dividers- These replace plastic binders with recycled cardboard ones. They can be reused by gluing on labels you made from junk mail until ready to be recycled or composted.
  • College Ruled Loose Leaf 3 Hole Paper- This paper is made from recycled materials, but is probably wrapped in plastic. See if you can skip it, if you can't, you can't.
  • Homemade wheat paste or plastic-free all-natural glue- Use either of these instead of Elmer's. This all-natural glue is made from potato starch (gluten-free) and comes in an aluminum tin, instead of a plastic bottle. Best of all, you can access all of the glue you pay for, rather than losing some to the edges of the bottle where you can't use it. If it dries out, you can refresh it and use it.
  • Recycled Notebook- You can buy one of these instead of a non-recycled version and recycle or compost it when you're done. You also make your own homemade recycled notebook instead and recycle it again or compost it.
  • Binding without a Stapler- Double check if a teacher requires staples, as some professors are very anal in this area. If you can though, Forget the staples, but bind the paper. If not, buy a used all-metal stapler for that "special" professor in your life. Rent it out for all your fellow students with the same professor.
  • Metal hole puncher- Use an all-metal either single or 3 hole punch, preferably used instead of plastic and new.
  • If you want custom book covers, just reuse brown paper and enjoy doodling or letting one of your artistic friends doodle for you.
  • Bonus: If you use a whiteboard, here are some refillable whiteboard markers. They are made from recycled aluminum, they are filled with plant-based ink, you can refill them for years and replace the tips instead of the whole marker. Yay for less plastic and less wasteful markers!
  • Bonus: Homeschool Classifieds-buy used curriculum from other homeschoolers. Check out Ebay and Amazon if you know exactly what you want to buy used. If you are looking for free resources and huge discounts, I highly recommend Free Homeschool Deals. That's where I found my free toddler and preschool curriculum and a few printables, etc. for UG1 and UG3.
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To all academics, what's your number one struggle for wasting less, when going back to school? Chat with us in the comments below!

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