Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back to School Shopping, the Green Way

It’s that wretched time of year again, where parents listen with glee to Staples’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” anthem and truck the kids off to Bellis Fair for some new school outfits. It symbolizes the END OF SUMMER, which is really the worst time of the year when you think about it.

Nevertheless, there are satisfying green choices you can make for your back to school shopping this year that may take the edge off the inevitability of the fall.

Earthzone pencils aren’t your typical “rain-forest” friendly options – they are apparently “the world’s most environmentally friendly pencil”. Made from 100% post-consumer (i.e. it’s been printed and read and now it’s being reused!) recycled newspaper and glue with a thin layer of the standard marigold-coloured veneer, you can see the layers of newspaper between the paint and the graphite tip. They even have latex-free erasers for the allergic folks! Earthzone is a local company (one block from my place, apparently!), and you can find their range of pencils, pencil crayons and artist’s pencils at the UBC Bookstore or major companies listed on their website (Chapters, Basics), or simply shop online at A super cool option for your little environmentalist.

Earthbound (from TopFlight Inc.) makes recycled paper notebooks, and have been a staple of mine for years. I especially like their 3-Subject recycled notebook (short and chunky) which has dividers with pockets that fit spent seed packages perfectly. I use it as a garden journal to keep track of what thrived, what didn’t and what croaked. I also use it in the dead of winter to fantasize about my balcony container garden for the coming spring and summer. Earthbound even has an ‘Earthbound Chic’ line which has a Salvador Dali label and associated graphics (melting clock face anyone?). Find them at your University bookstore (UVic always had a great selection as well), or online:
But my favourite eco-back to school item of all has to be Banana Paper from TNF Ecopapers: Banana paper is made from discarded organic material from the banana plantations and has a smooth, even glossy feeling to it that is easy to write on in ball-point (great for speedy shorthand!). The yellow monkey has been the face of my Organic Chemistry notes, Biological Psychology notes and many other courses and I still don’t cringe when I see its mischievous face. Not the easiest website to navigate – click on the yellow “Collections” seal to get the goods! I used to decorate the Kraft paper cover with fruit labels from my apples and bananas – the notebooks got a lot of attention. A great choice for the eco-minded student of any age.

Some general tips and ideas of what to look for on the back-to-school shopping trip:
  • Wait – buy the basics ONLY: Don’t buy everything on the list right away. Most things will sell out, Staples will be an absolute zoo, and you’ll end up spending more on things you like less. Get the basics (notebooks, pencils, pens, etc.) and hold out for the next wave of school supplies to get the good stuff. There’s always the urge to buy everything all at once, but I would argue that this is not the best approach. Remember your old friends the internet and the credit card – you can order those Earthzone pencils and make do with an old chewed one for the time being.
  • Mechanical pencils: If you can’t find the super-cool Earthzone newspaper pencils (and I’d argue that you’re not trying hard enough – you can buy them online!), the next best option would be a pencil that has a reusable core that you can refill again and again. On a funny note, I remember writing a letter to The Body Shop when I was 12 because I was suspicious that their “Save the Rainforest” campaign products included pencils made from rainforest wood (looked exactly the same as the interior of the cheap bad-for-the-environment type). I took their silence as an admission of guilt. I switched to LUSH shortly after, and I've been using mechanical pencils ever since.
  • Used clothes: Yes, it might be hard to get your teenager on board for this one, but if you hit up all the great second-hand and consignment places in the city (Shine, Pink Elephant on Commercial, My Sister’s Closet, Turnabout, Happy3, The Blue Room, etc.), I’m sure there will be something of interest to them. I bought a BCBG sweater from Happy3 once that caused a sales associate at the BCBG in Pacific Centre to come up to me and complain that I managed to get one before they sold out. She said she thought about buying the navy one, but the brown was her first choice and she was very jealous that I had snapped one up! Didn’t have the heart to tell her I only spent $40 on it and it was used, but I am pretty pleased with myself all the same.
  • YokoYaya/Daiso has sturdy plastic reusable report covers: There’s almost nothing at the Daiso or YokoYaya that’s environmentally sound, unfortunately. But if you shop wisely and choose durable items that will stand up to more than one school year (or more than one semester, depending how rough your kid is with their belongings!), you might be able to come out on top in terms of economy. Look for cheap but sturdy fabric pencil cases, too (at YokoYaya, they’re by the socks and underwear – probably meant as cosmetic cases but whatever). Also recommended: the cola-scented erasers. They’re probably horrid for the earth, but they smell great, look cool and work well. Yeah, I sold out. I liked them too much.
 Know of another green choice for back-to-school shopping? Share it - leave a comment below!

1 comment:

  1. Here are a couple of more!

    Biodegradable Corn-based plastic pen:

    Recycled plastic ruler: