Plastic Free July Day 23: Back to School!

plastic free school supplies zero waste

(Back to the challenge summary)

I have 2 daughters, both of them will be in Elementary school in August. When we cleanup their room, what's our biggest source of disposable plastics? School supplies and craft supplies. The list of things teachers would have to change is not that long; once again it's a matter of being aware of the impact of the things we use everyday. I don't blame the teachers, they already have plenty on their plates, helping our kids grow and learn in the best way possible. I wish there was a zero waste program in every school, this would have such a big impact!

One great example I'd like to share: Jacqueline Omania is a 3rd grade teacher in Berkeley. She's my hero, I'm lucky to know her: she included zero waste in her program and now 24 3rd graders will grow up knowing exactly how to reduce waste everywhere they go. This is truly beautiful, learn more here.

Thank you Zero Waste California for starting this discussion and sharing things we can start doing now to avoid waste at school!


It might be mid-summer, but school is just around the corner. And school supplies are riddled with plastic and plastic packaging. Luckily, for students of all ages, there are sustainable options.

Plastic School Supplies Facts

According to The Guardian, "Bic, the company that has made a fortune out of things to be thrown away, has sold its 100 billionth disposable ballpoint - selling an average of 57 pens every second since it was launched in 1950." source.

Schools throw away hundreds of pounds of supplies at the end of each school year. Except for paper, these items are not recyclable. 

plastic pollution school supplies

Picture credit: Wisdom Supply

Here are some tips to reduce waste

Whenever possible, store information electronically, not on paper! Notes, schedules, ideas, you name it, these things often get jotted down on fresh pieces of paper. In a pinch, use scrap paper, but whenever possible, store information on your phone or computer.

Speaking of computers, it's difficult to get around not owning one these days. Maybe you have a tablet instead, that's fine, too. We're not here to judge. Some schools require their students purchase specific laptops. But when your laptop, tablet, or phone die, and they will, if you can't fix it, or sell it to someone who can, make sure you are recycling your e-waste responsibly! Find out how YOUR community disposes of e-waste with a simple google search.

What is e-waste?

e-waste is electronic waste, and range from computers to appliances. E-waste is EXTREMELY toxic and must be handled properly to ensure safety. Unfortunately, a lot of this e-waste ends up in developing nations overseas.

How does e-waste end up overseas?

E-waste is bought, sold, and/or dumped in numerous countries overseas, like China. We are literally shipping our toxic electronic junk to accumulate in other nation's landfills. Check out how it's all "recycled". Do we really need to change our phone every 2 years?

How does it effect humans?

Exposure to e-waste sites in these countries has been making locals extremely sick and causing birth defects, like muscle spasms. These toxins and metals that leach from the e-waste sites are highly carcinogenic.

Sustainable School Supply Companies

zero waste school supplies plastic free

Photo Credit:

Companies like Wisdom Supply Co. offer earth-friendly school supplies shipped sustainably, from pencils to paper to rulers. This company is going above and beyond to reduce plastic packaging for schools. Well done!

wisdom supply zero waste san francisco bay area

Back-to-School Clothes and Backpacks: Head to the thrift store!

back to school thrift store

Only got $20 in your pocket?

For back-to-school clothes, shoes, bags and backpacks, check your local thrift store before buying something brand new (we will have a whole post dedicated to thrift stores and swap-meets in a few days!).

Lunch Time

zero waste school lunch

(Photo Credit:

If your school cafeteria doesn't have sustainable options for lunch, like metal silverware and reusable trays, opt out and pack your own. Some schools are still using styrofoam for serving meals. Not only is styrofoam (polystyrene) not recyclable, it is toxic for our bodies, it is toxic to the environment.

Any lunch box you have will do! But if you are looking to buy one, I suggest stainless steel. They're plastic free, they pack well, and they're sturdy!

zero waste lunch box kids

Stainless steel lunch boxes are available in various sizes with different sized compartments and are available at most whole foods stores and co-ops. They're also great for the beach and picnics!

Now, are you ready to be inspired?

Watch how this Japanese school handles their lunch waste

Imagine if every school did this!



Join the conversation!