Minimal Waste School Supplies Must Haves

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With fall just around the corner and school years getting under way it is easy to get into a frenzy of school supplies shopping and allow thoughts of minimal waste to be put on the back burner. But going minimal waste while back to school is a lot easier than you think! Here are a few items I found that will both help our planet, and help your little scholar fill their brain.

Pencils do not have to be made with metal ends and eraser tips. These Sprout pencils, for example, can be completely zero waste and actually turn into plants when you are done using them. Of course you will still need an eraser, no one is perfect. Go for a latex free eraser to help minimize it’s impact on your planet while also keeping your pages clean.


Highlighters are important for taking notes, but they don’t have to be incased in plastic. Pencil highlighters are an actual thing, and won’t bleed through your paper.

Art supplies are always tricky. You can buy colored pencils made out of reforested wood, and I am dying to try out these earth paints with the littles this fall. But for crayons I will almost always go with Crayola (come on, you know they are the best and they are at least non-toxic, we cut down on waste by melting them down to reuse) and I have not yet found a plastic free marker set, but crayola has an awesome program where you can recycle markers made by them and others. Maybe you could get your child’s teacher involved to collect all the used up markers throughout the year to send to be recycled!

For older kids I am in love with these Decomposition Books, made from 100% recycled paper and chlorine free. To keep it all together I don’t think anything would last longer than an aluminum binder, but you could also choose a ReBinder made from recycled chip board. The rings even easily unscrew for easy recycling.

To carry lunch for your hungry scholars the PlanetBox is a popular option, but honestly it’s not in my budget. I am eyeing this stainless steel LunchBots box for Addi’s lunch on co-op days this year. It’s three compartments keep food separate, and it’s small enough to fit in her lunch bag easily. I’m also planning to grab a few reusable sandwich bags to hold treats and snacks for recess time.

And last, but certainly not least, no school supplies list is complete without something to carry it all in. While I have yet to find a 100% waste free backpack, I feel like JanSport is a good second option. They’re lifetime warranty on packs, bags, and luggage make them a safer bet for the environment and your budget.

Back to school can be stressful, especially as a parent. But it does not have to pack a huge punch to the planet. With a little planning and extra thought, you can easily have an earth friendly school year this year.

Oh and speaking of planning, don’t forget to check out this list to see if your state participates in tax free weekend or even a tax free week for additional school supplies savings this school year, because keeping our budget in mind is important too!

Why Minimal Waste (And Why I Don’t Say Zero Waste)

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So I spoke a little bit about why we are going minimal waste in a video last month, but I left many people confused because minimal waste is not nearly as popular of a phrase as it’s Zero Waste sister. Although I could have left things at that video, I thought it would be best to address why I call my journey a Minimal Waste journey, and what that exactly means for my family.

First off, like I mentioned in the video, going Zero Waste is really not an option for my family. We got through so many syringes, oxygen masks, and medicine bottles that I will literally always have some sort of plastic in my home that is unavoidable. But that is not the only reason why we are Minimal Waste instead of Zero Waste.

Yes, I could go on a mission and get rid of everything disposable in our home other than Austen’s medical supples, and never bring those things back in. I could, but I won’t. And that’s because I do not feel that that is necessarily a healthy way to live my life. I know if I tried to live my life that way I would obsess over it to the point of not focusing on anything else, it’s just the way I am, so I choose not to.

Instead we have set up some ground rules for our home that we try to follow in order to cut down on the waste we create and not bring as many wasteful things into our home.

  • We follow the 5 R’s of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, and Refuse that I learned about in the book Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.
  • We buy as much as we can without packaging. This includes shampoo, face soap, conditioner, and most food items.
  • We have made guidelines of what types of plastics we are okay with bringing into our home, namely cosmetics cases, milk cartons and milk cartons that I am unable to find in non plastic containers.
  • We do not purchase things in styrofoam, or use disposable plates or cutlery.
  • We got to know our communities recycling guidelines, and make sure anything we do bring in that is plastic falls within those guidelines.
  • We are focused more on lowering our trash output than our recycling output at the moment. Once we get that under control we plan to tackle that as well.
  • As things in our house break or become unusable that are made of plastic, we plan to replace them with sustainable alternatives. For example, when my plastic dish rack broke a few months back we replaced it with a bamboo option.

As time goes by my goal is to lower our output 85-90%. Right now I currently fill up my recycling bin every single week and throw away two trash bags full of trash a week as well. By December I hope to get that down to one load of recycling and one bag of trash every two weeks. Eventually I’d like to get it down to once a month or less.

I’m taking baby steps with my green journey, the same way I am with my debt free journey. And that is okay.