Back to School Green Guide, 2011

[caption id="attachment_1523" align="alignleft" width="243" caption="Green School Supplies (clockwise): The Naked Binder, AusPen Eco-Friendly Markers, LunchBots, O'Bon Pencils"][/caption] Back to school shopping is the ideal time to switch from conventional resource-intensive products to modern eco-friendly school supplies. The market is teeming with innovative green products that will help reduce your ecological footprint, safeguard you from toxins and actually save money. Tapping into the market of greener school supplies rather than tapping natural resources can be a satisfying experience and a good lesson for the younger generation. Follow this guide for greener alternatives to the regular lunchboxes, art supplies, dry-erase markers, binders and backpacks. It’s a great way to start the 2011/2012 school year on the right foot.   The classroom is the place where the future begins to unfold. What better place than schools to use greener, healthier products and model environmental sustainability? The market is teeming with earth-friendly school and office supplies, guarding the health of students and their teachers. Non-toxic school supplies make a real difference in the quality of the indoor air and the level of toxins that we expose our children to daily. Why not shut the leading polluters - PCVs, BPA, lead and xylene – out of class? A new generation of green school supplies can send them packing. Binders and Notebooks: Binders are often coated in or made with PVC plastic (polyvinyl chloride, aka the poison plastic), while notebooks and paper products use valuable wood pulp and are often bleached white. Try binders that are made of corrugated cardboard, such as the ReBinder, which can be found through The Green Office (thegreenoffice.com). The Naked Binder (nakedbinder.com) also uses 100% post-consumer waste recycled and recyclable materials and steers clear of the nasty and ever-present vinyl, a PVC plastic. For paper, a notebook made of crushed stone paper is a fun alternative to the regular wood pulp paper. It provides a smoother writing surface that is different to the touch and absorbs ink differently. There are also a variety of new tree-free products available in stationery stores including paper made from coffee, banana leaf, lemon, tobacco, elephant dung (!), hemp, flax, cereal, straw, and corn. Writing Instruments and Markers: Markers and pens are one of the most commonly discarded items in the classroom. Every year in North America, teachers throw out over 500 million dry-erase markers into their local landfills, where the PVC plastic cylinders will never decompose. In addition, the common chemical solvent in markers is xylene, a harmful neurotoxin which can be associated with headaches, asthma and fuzzy thinking. For a greener choice, try a class set of AusPen Eco-Friendly dry-erase markers (ecosmartworld.com). These markers are not only made from 100% post-consumer waste recycled materials, but they are also refillable with low-odor, non-toxic ink. As for the humble pencil, it is often made from wood gathered from non-regulated forests, and it is usually finished off with lacquer or paint. O’Bon (myobon.com) has a unique line of pencils made of recycled newspaper, which means no new trees were cut down. The pencils come in cool patterns of different animal skins, and since the layers of newspaper are tightly wrapped around the graphite, they are very study. The added bonus is that you can read the newspaper shavings when you sharpen the pencil!   Art Supplies: Art supplies can be a source of toxic material too. Modeling clays such as Fimo and Sculpey should be on the chopping block and replaced by Crayola’s PVC-free air-dry clay or Mary’s Softdough, which has a chemical-free formula. And the crayons from Kid Star and Prang are made from soybean oil, making them non-toxic, biodegradable and safe for the environment… and curious mouths. Backpacks and Lunchboxes: Many backpacks are made of PVC plastic, which can be identified by the number 3 or by the name of vinyl. Backpacks made of natural fiber are the best choice, such as canvas, hemp, bamboo or 100% post-consumer waste rubber, and with low impact dyes. For synthetic materials, backpacks made of polyester or nylon are also good non-toxic choices. PVC, bisphenol A (BPA) and lead are pervasive chemicals used in lunchboxes, food wraps and drink containers. To make lunch go down a little easier, look for canvas or organic cotton lunchbags. Greenfeet.com, Ecobags.com and Reusablebags.com all offer lunch bags and wraps, and Wrap-N-Mat stores your lunch and then opens up to a placemat for a clean eating surface. Metal lunchboxes and containers are gaining popularity and can be found through Tin Box Company, Lunch Bots and Shiva Lunchbox. Of course, the stainless steel drinking container such as Kleen Kanteen is a must, since many reusable water bottles can leach BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical. Thermos sells plastic and steel food jars that are BPA and PVC-free. Apparel:                As for back to school clothes shopping, certain retailers help take the worry out of our selections by claiming to only carry PVC-free clothes and shoes. H&M, Nike and Asics products contain no PVC, while Jansport and Land’s End backpacks and rain jackets have scrapped the poison plastic.   Whether it’s a lead-free lunchbox, xylene-free marker, BPA-free drink container, or PVC-free binders and backpacks, stocking up on school supplies that are non-toxic and that create less waste is the smart way to go back to school. This year, back to school shopping can be a little more reassuring, knowing that green alternatives to toxic school supplies have got our backs.

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