Green School Supplies – A Back to School Guide for Students Going Green

Looking for ways to tap into the market of green school supplies rather than tapping natural resources? Back to school shopping can be an opportunity to make the switch from conventional resource-intensive products to modern eco-friendly school supplies, and start the year on the right foot. Turning to some alternative school supplies will steer you away from harmful toxins and wasteful products and help you create a greener, healthier 2010/11 school year.  Clearly 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.            Many school supplies are made out of PVC – a plastic that contains chemical additives such as phthalates, lead, cadmium and/or organotins. These chemicals pose a threat to our health and are harmful across its whole lifecycle, from production, to use, to disposal. Also known as the poison plastic, PVC is found in vinyl products like lunchboxes, binders, markers, backpacks and raingear, and may take as many as four centuries to decompose in a landfill. Identify this leaching plastic by its three-arrow recycling symbol with the number 3, or the letters V or PVC.  Here are some safer alternatives to the common school supplies:  Binders are often coated in or made with PVC plastic. Try binders that are made of corrugated cardboard, such as the ReBinder, which can be found online through The Green Office. Avery also makes PVC-free binders and can be found at Staples and Target.   Lunchbags and wraps that are PVC and lead-free will make lunch go down a little easier. Canvas or organic cotton lunchbags and wraps are a food-safe alternative, and they have the added bonus of eliminating all the waste associated with plastic baggies. 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. For a retro look, tin lunch boxes like the ones from Tin Box Company can be found in many retailers and are starting to make a comeback thanks to sightings of celebrity toddlers with tin lunch boxes.  The stainless steel drinking container is a must, since many reusable water bottles can leach bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical, and should be avoided. Thermos sells plastic and steel food jars that are BPA and PVC-free.  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. As a green alternative, try a class set of AusPen eco-friendly dry-erase markers which are not only made from 100% recycled aluminum, but they are also refillable with low-odour, non-toxic ink.  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 while the humble crayon appears inoffensive, crayons made from soybean oil, like the ones from Kid Star and Prang, are non-toxic, biodegradable and safe for the environment… and curious mouths.  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, the choice is clear. Choosing non-toxic school supplies pays off in the health of our schools, children and environment. 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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