How to ensure a plastic free back to school

Posted on3 Years ago

The start of the school year is close again and although there are a few weeks of vacation left, we are already starting to prepare school affairs for our darling's first day of school! The promotions for the start of the school year are once again at the rendezvous in supermarkets, but this year you tell yourself that you want to avoid plastic, not to fill your trash with packaging and especially to offer your children healthy, beautiful and ecological school items! The school has provided the list of necessary school supplies and this year you will not bebullied around by all the marketing. You won't wander the aisles of the hypermarket with the list in one hand, the other on the cart and your eyes riveted on all the references. No, this year back to school will be eco-responsible, better yet: zero waste!

For starters: the process is quite feasible! We have prepared a list of tips and reminders for a zero waste back to school and optimizing supplies purchases. It is time to approach the start of the school year calmly and to offer a zero waste office to everyone:

1. Make and inventory of what you already have

The idea is ofcourse banal, but how many times do we say to ourselves "Aah, but we already had one of those at home". This simple little step will save you money and most importantly cross a lot of needed supplies off your list. Double check the drawers, pencil cases, binders and boxes that your children brought home from school at the end of the school year with the spare "stock" they need to keep in class.

The often reusable items are :

  • The pencilcase(s)
  • Refillable ink cartridge pens
  • The pair of cisors
  • The metal pencil sharpner
  • The coloring pencils
  • Slate and its cloth or eraser
  • Rulers and slats in wood or metal
  • Compass with metal fixing (the plastic version is less resistant after a few months of use)

This classroom equipment can be reused for several years in a row. No matter the age, schoolchildren, middle schoolers, high schoolers or even college students, everyone appreciates having trendy classroom tools. The only way not to be overwhelmed by the latest trends is to equip yourself with sober, elegant and timeless material. This is often easier said than done, but involving your child in the zero waste approach often makes a difference. Especially since sobriety doesn't mean ugly and outdated. The return to zero waste class can be done without worry by taking the time to explain and approach the subject in an educational way.

2. Discuss the essentials and the superfluous

At school, no one likes to be mocked for their material and you will have to convince your children of the value of choosing simple and durable supplies. With patience and pedagogy, you will succeed in avoiding the latest heroes of cartoons and trendy movies. Above all, you will have to overcome the guilt that your little anger will try to make you feel by assuring you that everyone will have them except him or her and they will be the laughing stock of the class. You will therefore have to negotiate a little, here are some tips to consider:

The schoolbag :

True visible element, it has an importance of the highest grade. However, it is one of the most expensive purchases and is the element that will probably be reused most over the coming years if properly maintained. In addition, all the time on the back, it is imperative not to skimp on the quality of the straps of the satchel/ backpack to better maintain their back and shoulders. Aim for a durable backpack with a reinforced bottom and comfortable padded shoulder straps. If your child comes home alone or late at night, consider the safety aspect by choosing a backpack with reflective strips to be better seen after dark.

Binders, notebooks and pencil cases:

Neutral binders, notebooks and pencil cases in ecological material but fully customizable! Many simple environmentally friendly binders and neutral notebooks exist, no need to opt for those covered with plastic. For the kits, the choice is very vast. Especially since you can offer a pre-re-entry personalization workshop using stickers, badges or pins that will be removable and reusable the year after.

Small school consumables

If you need to let go a bit, do it on small consumables instead. An eraser or a tube of glue (certainly not zero waste, but there is nothing better to date) for example.

3. Choose simplicity and sobriety

Covering books and notebooks to protect them is not required by all schools. So if you can dispense with covering books with plastic, do so. Especially since the protection provided by a notebook cover is quite relative. If this is really an obligation, why not showcase your sewing skills and let your child choose the fabric? A great way to personalize school supplies and prepare for a zero waste back to school.

When it comes to pencils, pens and markers, try to avoid decorative elements attached to the end of a spring. Usually, they do not last very long and take up a lot of space in the case, which leads to forcing the closure and contributing to breaking it. These gadgets are however very popular with children and adolescents to stand out. It will surely be necessary to negotiate a little, as mentioned previously.

If you can, choose school supplies made from natural, durable and strong materials. Sobriety and elegance must be the priority, because they will never go out of fashion. In addition, choosing school materials without flashy decorations or without a decorative license from the latest fashionable film is often much cheaper. Take the opportunity to buy more qualitative and better products that will last longer.

4. Opt for labeled school affairs

To choose the best school supplies for your children, take a look at the different standards and labels At your disposal. Here are the most famous and those which will allow you to better orient your choices:


Founded in 1993, with headquarters in Germany, the Forest Stewardship Council is a recognized environmental label of the highest grade. This standard helps ensure that you are sourcing components from wood that comes from sustainable tree plantations.


Created in 1999 and based in Geneva, the Pan European Forest Certification is a private certification that promotes the management sustainable forest. It is the leading certification in terms of forest areas and certifies the most wood in the world.

Blue Angel

The blue angel (Blauer-Engel) is a label granted by the German government since 1978. One of the most complicated standards to be obtained in terms of environment and design. It is a real benchmark for sustainable purchases.


Certification issued by IIE in the UK. It depends on the producer's submission to the binding specifications. An IIE environment stamped product is a real guarantee in terms of environmental quality.

School supplies for a zero waste back to school

5. Say no to packaging and overpackaging

Many study and school work products have heavier packaging than the item in question. Plastic boxes, cardboard plates, disposable shells or even single-use bags go straight to the trash. In addition, erasers or pencils are often packaged in sets. This prompts us to stockpile that is not needed or to consume packaging unnecessarily. You only need two yellow highlighters, but buy them in sets of 4. You want 3 pencils, but they come individually wrapped, waste packaging guaranteed. In addition, batch purchases are sometimes barely less expensive, or cost the same as single supplies. The zero waste return promises to be complicated.

To avoid a fate like the tons of already existing waste, head to your local stationery! You will find everything in bulk and if you take everything, you can surely negotiate a small discount. Erasers, rulers, pencils, compasses, ballpoint pens, ink refills and fountain pens are sold individually and completely without packaging. You will be able to check directly if the rechargeable products have any recharges still existing and available locally. This will also allow you to review your need for office supplies. Some stationers also offer the service of leaving them your list and picking up your belongings for the start of the school year 2/3 days later, with complete peace of mind.

Another advantage of equipping yourself locally is that you'll know what's in store for the rest of the year! We can no longer count the number of times an eraser, a pencil or the need for ink refill is missing. It will prevent a last minute cold sweat when the supermarket has run out of products because the start of the school year is over and the choice has narrowed.

6. Equip yourself with rechargeable school items

The number of plastic products that wear out and end up thrown in the trash is significant. Finding good quality, refillable homework items will cut down on a lot of waste. Returning to zero waste class is possible, it will probably take a little patience.

The zero waste refillable pen

The ink cartridge pen is surely the most popular item. It is essential for noting your lessons or quite simply for learning to write and can be used for several years, or even be transmitted! There are two versions, the refillable fountain pen and the cartridge ballpoint pen. Much more ecological, comfortable, healthy and can be really trendy and stylish. Opt for a cartridge wood fountain pen for kindergarten and a beautiful refillable metal pen for your teenager!

The refillable lead pencil

Just as a pen can be recharged, so can a pencil. A refillable lead pencil will avoid having to constantly sharpen your pencil and especially not buying pencils all the time. Although a wooden pencil, NF standardized and of FSC origin, will be considered environmentally friendly, its packaging is much less so. A refillable stainless steel lead pencil will stand out and can be a real argument for your teenager and avoid the plastic version!

The refillable fluorescent highlighter

Difficult to find in supermarkets, the refillable fluorescent highlighter is generally in the catalog at your favorite stationer. However, although its "refillable" appearance might classify it as an ecological school item, its plastic body is not ideal, especially as the fluorescent felt contains harmful substances. The methylisothiazolinone is a known allergen causing eczema and irritation. It is the preservative used in fluorescent markers, so do without if possible. The credible alternative is the neon highlighter pencil. Environmentally friendly, it has the advantage of being dry and will not stain ink, text or clothing. Plus, free from preservatives and chemicals, it won't irritate your hands.

The roll-on corrector

Also called corrective mouse, the ribbon rool-on corrector has its rechargeable version. We only change the ribbon and not the body. There will, of course, be the tape and the small roll of disposable body, but compared to a liquid corrector and its formula with chemical solvents (which you happily inhale), this remains the best option. In addition, the tape has the advantage of being dry instantly and allows you to rewrite on it without having to wait.

Rechargeable batteries

Powerful calculators are often without a "solar" option. Although the solar calculator option is preferred (they are additionally, smaller and lighter) this is not possible for some scientific calculators. In this case, opt for rechargeable batteries and avoid having to buy more each time.

A little rule to keep in mind for your children's end-of-year exams: Have spare rechargeable batteries already recharged, to be able to exchange them and avoid running out of power.

7. Lunch boxes for the lunch break

The canteen is not for everyone and many children go to study after school. They therefore need a lunch and a snack to taste it. The schoolbag will therefore contain the midday meal and the after-school snack. To avoid the packaging of cookies, cereal bars or even yoghurt pots, plastic bottles and cans, we will have to prepare a small “zero waste lunch kit”. This will prevent up to 30 kg of plastic waste per year per student throughout the school year.

Insulated stainless steel water bottle

Indispensable for fresh water all day long, the isotherm will guarantee the freshness of the drink throughout the day! Stainless steel also has the advantage of being healthy, ecological and resistant. In addition, the insulated stainless steel bottle will be used for a picnic or class trip to come .

Children's lunch box

A snack box for children should ideally have several compartments and be naturally resistant. Opt for silicone that can easily go in the microwave and the dishwasher.

Reusable food wrap, Beeswax wrap

Older children are often fond of a good, well-filled baguette sandwich. Your best bet is to wrap it in a beeswax coated cotton fabric to preserve it. This wax-soaked cotton sheet will be reusable for years to come and avoid buying foil rolls or plastic wrap.

Reusable sandwich bag

Very similar to a beeswax wrap, a reusable sandwich bag will be useful for sandwiches or for sliced fruit. Covered with a sheet of waterproof fabric and a scratch, the pouch will keep food healthy without losing a crumb.


Take those from the house, if not opt for a washable steel mini set. You don't have to worry more about this.

All of these boxes, reusable packaging and cutlery will of course be used for many other occasions! This will not only concern school, so we might as well take sustainable, ecological and quality products!

A successful zero waste back to school

In the end, it is not very complicated to do a zero waste back to school. However, a little persistence and a good dose of patience will come in handy. Having in mind to target natural, biodegradable and recyclable materials for your purchases such as metal, wood and cardboard. If you can mostly reuse supplies from previous years and look for strong and durable timeless products. Your darling will just have a great start to school and a happy new year, period!

And you? What are your zero waste ideas for back to school?

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