There can be so much waste involved in buying school and college supplies. In our house we do our best to keep it as low as possible by reusing, buying second-hand or buying fully recyclable / compostable / refillable items. To save you doing all the research yourself I’ve listed what to buy where below. Enjoy.
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Sourcing Low-Waste School Stationary
I see school stationary supply lists as a suggestion rather than gospel. Once you do you’ll find it easy enough to swap out eco alternatives, like using card folders instead of plastic one.
Also having volunteered in schools before I’ve seen just how much stuff is wasted, particularly as parents are encouraged to buy replacements ahead of time. It’s just not sustainable to frontload school supplies on the off-chance that they’ll be needed, especially with gluesticks and markers, which dry up over time. Therefore I don’t buy multiples and only buy one of an item and send in a replacement only when it is needed.
We find that you only really need to buy a lot of stationary items in the first year of a school. If that’s you then check out two of my favourite companies for stationary supplies; Klee Paper and Jiminy.ie . Both stock a range of refillable, toxin-free, recycled stationary items that are more sustainable than what you’ll find on the high street and at very competitive prices too.
When it comes to copy books I ignore all brands and aim to only buy Aisling copy books. They make copy books in Europe with solvent free, water based ink on paper sourced from sustainable European forests. They also have little money back coupons on the back of them, which schools can cash-in.
If you’re buying for college and looking to impress I recently came across a new product on the sustainable stationary scene; tree-less paper notebooks, including these recycled stone notebooks from Paper on the Rocks are one example of this.
How to buy Sustainable Text Books
When ordering books I try to buy second-hand, which is why I generally order from book stores that offer that option. You can find a list of such stores in my article Second-hand Stores in Ireland.
I don’t get books covered in plastic. In my experience books are revised too regularly for the plastic covering to offer any sort of increased longevity.
The Most Sustainable Backpacks for School and College
I can’t believe I have to mention this but we simply don’t buy a new school bag every year, it’s the epitome of wastefulness.
If you do need a new school bag then buy second-hand. Charity shops are also a great source of backpacks. I’ve seen practically brand new ones for sale in there for a few euros. I’ve also found good ones on adverts.ie
If can’t find anything second hand, then here’s what to look out for when buying new.
- aim to buy the best quality you can, and
- buy one that comes with a warranty.
- also avoid themed bags as kids will tire of these quicker than the bag will wear out.
- finally opt for darker coloured bags as they show less wear and tear.
Best brands for long lasting school and college bags
The Irish company Sporthouse offer a lifetime guarantee for manufacturing defects, but will also repair your bag is it gets damaged, although I’m not sure how much they charge for it. They said they have looked into using recycled polyester in their bags but have yet to find a product strong enough.
Other brands that offer lifetime guarantees include the American brands Jansport and Zipit. I know someone who sent their Jansport backpack back to America for repair for €6.50 and got a replacement for free because it was beyond repair. Alternatively a friend of mine had hers repaired at the cobbler on Charlemount St, Isaac Jackman. I haven’t heard of anyone availing of the Zipit warranty as of yet.
I bought my son a backpack made from recycled polyester in Patagonia 4 years ago and I’m happy to report it’s still going strong.
I also suggest you check out the bags for sale by Jiminy.ie particularly for younger kids. This year they have the cutest backpacks made from repurposed bouncy castles.
I’ve also published a list of companies that offer Sustainable Ethical Bags, some of which are backpacks so check that out before you buy.
The best eco lunchware options
Lunch can be a bit of a waste nightmare but there are ways and means around it. I love an initiative in some schools, whereby kids get homework passes for having packaging-free lunches! Rewards for living lightly? Bring it on I say.
One simple way to reduce the amount of waste your kid generates in school is to avoid the milk scheme if your school runs it. We aren’t a vegan household and do drink milk at home, but my kids really don’t need an individual carton of the stuff for the few hours they’re away at school.
Choosing the best Reusable Drinks Bottles
The best material for reusable water bottles
For health and environmental reasons we use reusable stainless steel water bottles, which we bought at the Eden project in Cornwall one year.
Your kids school may not allow metal water bottles or you may have prefer a lighter plastic bottle. If you are opting for a plastic bottle then consider a recycled and recyclable reusable plastic bottle from UK brand Honest Bottle. They’ve designed their bottle to be recyclable in kerbside bins, which is fantastic.
Where to buy reusable water bottles
Over the years we’ve managed to replace lost water bottles with some high quality stainless steel water bottles in charity shops for just a couple of euro. My tip is to smell inside the bottle before buying second hand bottles. Although bicarbonate of soda is great from removing odours, it’s worth checking out what you’re dealing with before purchasing.
If you’re buying a new metal reusable bottle our favourite brand is Klean Kanteen, which do a straw-free sportscap. Matching straws to various sportscaps is a pain so I love not having to do so with this brand.
If you are buying a new bottle aim for a brand that you can get inexpensive replacement parts for.
The best options for Eco Lunchboxes
We still have some plastic lunchboxes in the go in our house but as our plastic lunchboxes break or get lost we’re replacing them with metal ones, because they last longer and are chemically inert, i.e. the chemicals don’t get transferred into the food.
You can also get them on the high-street and I’ve also picked up some metal lunch boxes in Aldi, Tiger and Sostrene Green too.
If your kids are older you could wrap their lunch in a fabric napkin Furoshiki style. I love this simple video from a website selling stainless steel lunch boxes. The video shows a stainless steel lunchbox being used but I think it’d work just as well with an unwrapped roll or sandwich. There’s a very simple video on how to wrap your Zero Waste lunch on Bea Johnson YouTube channel. Alternatively a simple draw-string cotton bag would work just as well.
Low Impact School Uniforms
As always I aim to buy second-hand uniforms as a first port of call . I do this in a number of ways;
- firstly I go to the uniform swaps run by the Parents Associations every year.
- if I still need some items my next stop is the charity shop
- then local Facebook swap groups,
- then the dedicated pre-owned uniform site, called Skool Stuff or the uniform selling and swapping platform Schooly,
- next it’s adverts.ie, thriftify.ie or Facebook marketplace
- finally, its high-street stores.
I haven’t had to buy online yet but if you need to and can negotiate the custom tax issue from the UK you can get uniforms made from organic cotton, from the UK company Eco Outfitters and another UK company Koolskools offer uniforms made from fairtrade cotton.
If you need sportwear then check out the sportswear selling and swapping platform Clubby
Want to inspire your school to become more sustainable?
I find schools a minefield when it comes to waste; some of it is unavoidable but a lot could be. If you’re interested in learning how your school could become more sustainable check out my article Sustainable Schools
PS – You might also be interested in my article on Raising Zero Waste Kids