Back to School Buying Guide: For Eco-Savvy Parents and Their Kids (page 2)
Your kids may not realize it, but the supply of environmentally sound, non-toxic school supplies is growing and branching into unusual areas. Cornstarch pens and rubber backpacks? It’s all part of the recent rise of sustainable businesses making eco-friendly alternatives to everything from paper clips and Post-it notes to laptop computers. Now that you’ve gotten your supply list for next year and have a little time to make conscientious back-to-school shopping decisions before the August rush hits, you can make sure your child’s education isn’t contributing to deforestation, dioxins in our waterways, and other environmental and health hazards.
Here is a sampling of environmentally and socially responsible alternatives to commonly bought products, plus a list of some of the places where they can be found. Like many higher-quality products, some are more expensive than their conventional counterparts, but shifting our buying patterns to support greener businesses can eventually make these products more affordable for everyone.
Computers and Computer Supplies
As useful as they are, computers are inordinately wasteful for their price tags. Twelve million PCs are landfilled annually in the United States, putting tons of lead, cadmium, chromium, and mercury into the environment. The best option is to get the most life out of your current machine, upgrading components when necessary. For those buying new, a few preferable choices exist.
- NEC’s Powermate Eco computer is EnergyStar compliant, has a casing made from recycled plastic, and has a lead-free motherboard
- Panasonic’s Toughbook laptops use lead-free solder and have reduced brominated fire retardants
- Apple’s G4 notebook is EnergyStar compliant and contains no PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) or PCTs (polychlorinated terphenyls), bioaccumulative toxins that may cause cancer and hormone disruption
Disks & Diskettes
- GreenDisk recycled 3 1/2” diskettes and CD-RWs in recycled jewel cases (Office Depot; CD-RWs require special ordering)
- Office Depot Remanufactured Ink Cartridges
Dioxins produced during the production and incineration of PVC (polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl) are among the most poisonous substances in the environment. Dioxins adhere to fatty tissue and contaminate breast milk, passing carcinogens and immune suppressors on to infants. Choose PVC-free bags and backpacks like the hemp models produced by Hemp Sisters, Inc. or recycled rubber bags by Green Earth Office Supply.
Most paper is bleached with chlorine to give it that pristine white sheen, but the process also creates dioxins and other organochlorines. Add to that the destruction of our forests to make pulp for paper mills and you can see the message in this medium all too clearly. Choose recycled, chlorine-free papers instead and encourage your children to print double-sided and reuse single-sided sheets -- you’ll save money too.
- *New Leaf Everest writing paper and Badger Envirographic paper both have 100 percent post-consumer content and no chlorine bleaching (New Leaf, Treecycle, and GreenLine Paper companies)
- Dolphin Blue tree-free paper, made from denim, hemp, kenaf, and old money (Dolphin Blue Paper)
Then there are all the little things, a surprising number of which, including paper clips and staplers, at least offer some recycled elements in their production. Supplies with 25 percent recycled metal may not sound very green, but purchasing them will encourage large companies to produce more goods with higher ratios of recycled material.
- Deskworks recycled stainless steel scissors, with a handle made of at least 30 percent post-consumer plastic (Office Depot)
- 3M Scotch designer tape dispenser, containing at least 50 percent post- consumer plastic (Office Depot)
- Nature Saver recycled paper clips, containing 25 percent post-consumer recycled metal (Office Depot)
- 3M Post-it recycled paper notes, made of 100 percent recycled paper fiber with 30 percent post-consumer content (Office Depot)
- At-A-Glance DayMinder planners and appointment books, containing recycled paper with 30 percent post-consumer fibers (Office Depot)
Notebooks, Binders, & File Folders
- Mead recycled wirebound notebooks, with 20 percent post-consumer fiber (Office Depot)
- Samsill recycled binders (Green Earth Office Supply)
- Globe-Weis 100 percent recycled color file folders, with 40 percent post- consumer recycled materials (Staples)
Pens & Pencils
- Recycled cardboard pens (Green Earth Office Supply)
- Biodegradable cornstarch pens (Green Earth Office Supply)
- Paper Mate EarthWrite recycled pencils, made from 100 percent recycled materials (Office Depot)
Green Office-Supply Retailers & Suppliers
- Apple Computers: 1-800-MY-APPLE, www.apple.com
- Dolphin Blue: 1-800-932-7715, www.dolphinblue.com
- Eco-Products: (303) 449-1876, www.ecoproducts.com
- Ecover: www.ecover.com
- Green Earth Office Supply: 1-800-327-8449, www.greenearthofficesupply.com
- Green Field Paper Company: (619) 338-9432, www.greenfieldpaper.com
- GreenLine Paper Company: 1-800-641-1117, www.greenlinepaper.com
- Hemp Sisters, Inc.: (814) 443-2738, www.hemp-sisters.com
- NEC: 1-800-632-4525, www.necsam.com
- New Leaf Paper: 1-888-989-LEAF, www.newleafpaper.com
- Naturally Yours: 1-888-801-7347, www.naturallyyoursstore.com
- Office Depot: 1-800-GO-DEPOT, www.officedepot.com
- OfficeMax: 1-800-283-7674, www.officemax.com
- Panasonic Toughbook laptop: www.panasonic.com/computer/toughbook/
- Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative: www.recycledproducts.org
- Staples: 1-800-3-STAPLE, www.staples.com
- Real Earth Environmental Co.: 1-800-987-3326, www.treeco.com
- Treecycle Recycled Paper: (406) 549-4572, www.treecycle.com
P.W. McRandle is Senior Research Editor for The Green Guide, a bimonthly magazine devoted to green home tips, product reviews, and environmental health advice, on the web at www.thegreenguide.com.
Sidebar: Reuse, Reuse, Reuse!
Don’t forget that the cheapest option is also one of the greenest: reused supplies. Sure, it may not work with everything, but if last year’s notebook is only half filled with notes, why not use the other half? Yard sales are excellent ways to stock up on basic items like staplers, hole-punchers, and binders for mere pocket change. And don’t forget the time-honored tradition of swapping clothes with families whose children are slightly older or younger than yours. When buying new, look for sturdy, refillable items (such as loose-leaf notebooks) to encourage reuse next year.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for a New American Dream. © New American Dream.
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