I love school. Not because of the obvious reason that my kids return to a schedule, but because I love learning. And school supplies are where it all begins — a newly sharpened Ticonderoga, a notebook filled with empty lines, a pink Pearl. So when my kids go school shopping, I am there. My only requirement: that they buy as sustainably as possible.
Sustainable school supplies mean buying what will last the longest, avoiding plastics and vinyl and, if possible, buying products that have recycled content. I am sad to say that in Tracy, it has become harder in recent years.
When Staples moved and downsized, many of the sustainable products it carried never moved stores. And Target — which used to feature them — has eliminated the space in favor of budget-minded products only. I am all about spending my money wisely, but how cost-effective is it to buy something that will break or doesn’t work and then needs to be bought again?
Although it was tough this year to find products that were worthy of my Green Star — meaning sustainable products that are still cool for kids — I found a few worthy of mention.
B2P: Bottle to Pen
These pens, by Pilot, are made of recycled content plastic. What makes them stand out is that they look like the plastic bottles that they are made from, with ribbed indentations. They also proudly proclaim what they are recycled from. They are refillable, which makes them more sustainable then their origins.
The endless zipper
I steer my kids clear of plastic pencil boxes and plastic envelopes, as they break easily and are not repairable, nor recyclable. Instead, I look for clever and reusable pencil pouches.
What about an extra long metal zipper, called Zip, that when fully zipped forms a small pouch? It even comes with eyeballs for the younger group. Found at both Staples and Target.
Instead of a plastic bag for a sandwich, why not a reusable, washable wrapper? I bought mine online at Reuseit.com, but found a duplicate at Raley’s. The Wrap-n-Mat is essentially a square of fabric with the corners cut off, sewn to a piece of BPA-free plastic. The sandwich goes in the middle, then the edges fold up and are secured with a piece of Velcro on the outside. It’s washable — for those messy PB&J’s — and reusable, unlike plastic bags.
No-cost book covers
All the teachers in every school want their textbooks covered. Skip the stretchy book covers. They don’t work, cost money and don’t protect the book. Try this no-cost solution: paper grocery bag covers. There are several examples and videos on the Web.
Essentially, you take a paper grocery bag, cut off the bottom and fold it over the book. My twist on it: Fold over the front and back covers rather than folding the edges first. First fold the paper around the front and back covers. Cut into the paper the width of the spine and fold this tab of paper in. Then fold over the top and bottom over the book cover at a diagonal (think hospital corners), then fold again and tape to the sides. This makes for a tighter cover, with more protection on the corners and inside cover.
Before you put it on the book, take the time to make it unique and paint or stamp the paper.
Since school is all about learning, teach by example. Show your children that you think enough of them and the value of learning to buy products that will last and are better for the Earth. Value their future and their inheritance of the Earth as much as you do their education.
• For a change: Buy recycled-content notebooks. They are the most plentiful sustainable product. My favorites are the Sustainable Earth notebooks at Staples, made from the byproduct of sugarcane
• To make a difference: Buy recycled-content pens that can be refilled. Americans buy a mind-numbing 106 billion disposable ballpoint pens. Make the pen mightier than the sword in every word they write.
• To make a stand: Buy fiberboard binders. Target has a Greenroom brand with colorful covers. Binders don’t last forever, but at least binders without toxic plastics and vinyl can be recycled.
• Christina D.B. Frankel has lived in Tracy for more than 22 years and is an architect and mother of three. Her column, Living Green, runs every so often in the Tracy Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.