Eco-friendly at SchoolBack-to-school shopping season has already begun for many families, and that means store shelves will be packed with millions of trees worth of paper products and countless school supplies made of plastic, wood and metal that are likely to end up in landfills by next summer.
About 6 billion pens and 4 million tons of office paper are thrown out each year in the U.S. and we go through 2.5 million plastic bottles an hour, according to Eco-Action, an environmental education organization.
But there are plenty of school supplies out there made of recycled materials that can reduce your negative impact on the environment.
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Paying a PremiumGreen products may cost more, but 43% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for them, notes PC World.
However, the market for school supplies is definitely different from, say, the market for green cleaning products, says Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of the Shelton Group, a company that conducts frequent polls of consumers on their shopping habits.
“There aren’t a whole lot of families saying ‘let’s go by green school supplies,’ but when they go to the store and see that it’s an option,” they’re more likely to consider buying them, Shelton says.
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But How Green is Green?We shouldn’t forget that the process of recycling takes energy, and energy often requires the burning of fossil fuels, at least in part, so green may not be as green as you think. So why bother? The process of recycling paper, for instance, uses 60% less energy than turning virgin wood pulp into paper, according to the Oberlin College Resource Conservation group.
Yet companies that make so-called eco-friendly products are just beginning to realize that consumers actually care about how their products are recycled and manufactured, says Shelton, whose ad agency focuses on helping companies promote alternative energy-using and eco-friendly products. And there’s no strict definition of what green really means when you factor in the manufacturing process. “There’s a need for real standards,” Shelton says.
With all that said, here are a few recycled and otherwise eco-friendly school supplies that may be worth the expenditure.
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Recycled PencilsWooden pencils are a back-to-school staple for many kids, and there are a number of types of recycled pencils out there. Currently, pencils made from blue jeans, recycled old money and recycled newspapers are available online.
Price: The denim and old money pencils cost 39 cents each and a 24-count box of newspaper pencils can cost you $9.50 (that’s about 40 cents each).
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Recycled Notebooks and PaperEven a big office supply store like Office Depot (Stock Quote: ODP) knows that green products are popular despite tight family budgets. Its stores sell Foray Wirebound recycled notebooks, which have 100% recycled materials that include 30% post-consumer content.
And even durable binders made of recycled materials are out there. Proformance makes three-ring binders with 70% post-consumer recycled content that it calls 100% landfill safe.
Price: $3.29 for a three-subject, college-ruled recycled notebook and $8.15 for a pretty cool looking recycled binder.
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Creative Uses for CornstarchCornstarch is increasingly being used to make biodegradable utensils, and now there are even pens made from corn starch.
And as much as the corn industry has come under fire because of the widespread use of high-fructose corn syrup in common foods, there are some corn-based products that are more earth-friendly and contain no petroleum-based plastics. And these pens aren’t as boring as your average, cheap Bic pen.
Price: $15.60 for a dozen.
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Solar-Powered CalculatorsSolar-powered calculators have been around for decades, but more advanced scientific calculators that older kids might use for algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus – and even English-to-metric measurement conversions – are often powered by batteries. The Texas Intruments TI-36X Solar, however, never needs batteries and even works in low light, the company says.
Price: $25 at Amazon.com. That’s actually about the same prices as a battery-powered version.
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Recycled ClothesTextile recycling has gotten more popular, and you can actually buy clothes made from scrap and deconstructed fabric. Clothing brand Howies sells clothing that’s made from old cotton clothes that have been mulched and turned back into fabric.
Price: Unfortunately, Howies is a British company and these clothes aren’t yet available in the U.S., but consumer demand may make recycled clothing more popular in the next few years. Until then, thrift store shopping may have to do. And anyway, while clothes made from scraps sounds cool in a green way, hand-me-downs and thrift store finds use little to no energy before they get to you.
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Used BooksBuying used books is a cheap and easy way to make a green back-to-school purchase. And since some textbooks can be incredibly large and use thick paper, buying all of your books used could really make a difference. You can also avoid killing as many trees by buying e-books, which may actually save you money as well. However, you can’t get all textbooks electronically just yet. Renting a textbook may also be an option.
Price: Buying used textbooks could potentially save you 75% of the cost of new books.
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Don’t OverbuyParents with shopaholic tendencies may be relieved when back-to-school shopping season comes around, because at least school supplies will be used. But it’s all too easy to buy more supplies than are necessary, so earth911.com reminds parents not to go crazy stationery shopping.
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By the End of the YearFavorite jeans and old, broken calculators may be part of the few remnants of this school year come spring, but there are eco-friendly ways to get rid of old stuff.
For the crafty kid, jeans can be made into numerous other useful things including purses and bags. And you may even be able to get cash for your old calculator at Gazelle.com, a company that works to reuse or recycle all kinds of gadgets.
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