Earth-Friendly Gear for Back to School

Recycled school supplies

Start by purchasing wood pencils certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (or FSC for short). FSC wood comes from forests that are managed in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Dixon Ticonderoga makes pencils out of FSC-certified wood that are widely available. The company also produces colored pencils. Paper Mate makes recycled pencils called EarthWrite that are available at most office supply stores. Or check out, a site that sells exclusively eco-friendly stuff.

Look for paper that is at least 30 percent post-consumer content, which is easy to find. Better yet is 100 percent post-consumer content. Check out your local Kinko’s. To hold your paper, Office Depot boasts binders made of 100 percent recycled materials. Office Max and Staples both stock notebooks made from varying percentages of post-consumer waste.

Kids can cut with recycled stainless-steel scissors with handles made from 30 percent post-consumer plastic – check them out at Office Depot. 3M’s ubiquitous Post-It notes are also available in 100 percent recycled versions.

Eco-friendly packs

What can you use to carry your green gear? Look for pencil cases of unbleached cotton or hemp. And stuff it all in a backpack made from recycled rubber or hemp. Whatever pack you choose, make sure it will last so you aren’t replacing it every year. And steer clear of polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC or just “vinyl.” Manufacturing PVC creates a long list of eco-sins, and it is considered a probable carcinogen by the U.S. National Toxicology Program. No vinyl and that’s final, as environmentalists say.

While your child might beg for the latest, must-have back-to-school products — like a vinyl backpack that features Dora the Explorer or Spiderman — kids are surprisingly savvy. Explaining that some materials create air that’s bad to breathe and water that can make sea animals and sometimes people sick is generally enough to make kids turn up their noses at the toxic versions and embrace eco-ideals. Indeed, kids appreciate our need to care for the planet better than many adults.

Put it to use

If you have unused rulers, erasers or pencils lying around, check with your local Ten Thousand Villages store. Many of the store’s locations collect supplies to send to needy children around the world.

Leslie Garrett is a mother of three and an award-winning journalist and author of The Virtuous Consumer.

Local Company Makes Lunch a Little Greener

A Cary-based company is working to make lunches a little greener with colorful, kid-friendly cloth napkins called Happikins.

According to Molly McKinley, the owner of Happikins and a mom of three, the average elementary school generates more than 18,000 pounds of garbage (that’s 9 tons) each year. And the average family spends nearly $200 on paper napkins in that same period.

With Happikins, the waste and cost around eating neater is reduced. A pack of five comes with a zippered pouch with space for stashing both milk money and the used Happikin to return home to launder. The pouch also has a dry-erase panel for leaving hand-written, personal notes.

Available in three different designs, each set is American-made and sells for $29.95. Or a set of three napkins without the pouch is available for $18. Go to for more information or to order.

— Aleta Payne

Categories: Early Education, Education, Green Living, Lifestyle, Sk Education