Back-to-school supplies: go green
((This article is adapted from the September 2010 ShopSmart Magazine and the Baby & Kids Blog on Consumer Reports.org.)
Notebooks, pens, pads—it’s that time of year again. Good thing you can save money and the planet this season, as stores compete to fill those backpacks.
Waiting for those crazy, last-minute, 10-notebooks-for-a-dime specials could slash your spending, but there are lots of other steps you can take to shop wisely.
Take inventory. Chances are, you already have some of the things you need. Reusing what you already have will save you money and is better for the planet.
Stick to your list. It makes sense to get a jump on the stuff you know you need (think filler paper and pencils), but wait for the school’s list to do the bulk of your shopping.
Once you have the list, check out several free back-to-school buying guides — the Environmental Working Group’s free Back-To-School Guide covers a wide range of supplies, from hand sanitizers to paper products.
Buy recycled paper products. Binders, calendars, notebooks, folders, and many other paper school supplies are available with recycled content. To find out what products are available and why it’s important to buy recycled paper, visit the website Conservatree.
Consider swapping. If the search of your desk drawer turns up things you no longer have use for, swap them for things you do need. It’s better for the planet. Call other moms or go to Swapmamas.com.
Click on School & Office to see listings from people who have stuff and people who need stuff. We found an “almost new” SpongeBob backpack waiting for a good home, plus clothing, crayons, and more.
Avoid products made with PVC plastics. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic can contain the heavy metals lead and cadmium, and phthalates, which have been linked to hormone disruption. Concerns about PVC manufacturing, use, and disposal have led to bans and restrictions of the plastic in the U.S. and other countries.
To avoid products with PVC, you can find a shopping guide at the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), which has released it’s third annual, free Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies. The guide covers more than 30 categories of school supplies.
Choose safer backpacks. Features to look based on Consumer Reports latest tests and buying guide include wide, padded, contoured shoulder straps that distribute the pack's load over a large area of the shoulder, an abdominal strap, which can help distribute the pack's weight evenly on the back, waist, and hips, and reflectors or reflective fabrics on the pack to add visibility when kids travel to and from school at dusk or dawn. (See video). But the less stuff carried, the better.
Buy in bulk. Warehouse clubs are great places to load up, but so are online stores like RaymondGeddes.com, where we found a pack of six composition notebooks for $7.50 (they’re $2.49 each when you buy them individually). But you’ll pay for shipping, which is around $8. According to the Geddes website, they test their products and will provide safety and ingredient information upon request.
For example, Geddes wood pencils “use only non-rainforest Linden trees for the pencil rod. Linden trees are very common, fast-growing trees found throughout Asia, Europe and North America. It is also known as American Basswood or Whitewood (for its creamy white color). Note: the “lead” in pencils is made from graphite and clay and does not contain lead.
Look for eco-friendly pens, ink and art supplies. Ballpoint pens including gel ink pens, rollerball pens, and novelty pens should contain non-toxic ink. Art supplies should be tested safe using the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard for craft materials. And can have a seal present on the item or its packaging.
The parenting website, Inhabitots, lists a number of eco-friendly art supplies and where to find them.
Also check out DiscountSchoolSupply.com. A recent search turned up a 12-pack of glue sticks for $3.24 (39 percent off). But shipping costs can add up if you don’t order in bulk. At the website, a wide range of common allergen-free, non-toxic markers, crayons, glue, and paints are listed including craft materials that are gluten free, latex free, egg free, dairy and casein free, soy free, and peanut and tree nut free.
Consider refurbs. Whether you need a laptop or your kid needs a fancy graphing calculator, refurbished or opened but unused products can save you hundreds of dollars. Just be sure to stick with retailers you trust. Check Amazon.com, Crutchfield.com, Dell.com/outlet, and SonyStyle.com/outlet.
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