By Barbara Kessler

Well, slap us with a ruler, it’s time once again to hunt down school supplies, to elbow into the desperate mob with our mandates to secure a thousand pens, pencils, highlighters, fine tip Sharpies, binders and the mysterious “folders with brads.”

With the eco news streaming like ticker tape from the big office stores this year, we thought it would be an easy assignment to find what we needed in recycled versions. We were surprised that this was not the case. The stores we sampled (Office Depot, Office Max and Target) offered only a handful of green notebooks and non-toxic pens. At Office Depot we nearly struck out, looking in vain for recycled filler paper, reasonably priced eco-responsible spiral notepads and pencils made from post-consumer waste. We did spot a reusable shopping bag at the checkout line. But we had only a lone green item, Ticonderoga EnviroStik pencils, to put in it!

Tired of combat crawling through towering stacks of un-green paper and binders, we turned the Internet. Aha! Here we found much greener pastures. Online, even the Big Box stores that had failed us in person had the environmentally good goods. Go figure. Serves us right for expending $4 gasoline to search out environmentally friendly products. Our findings, and a powerfully definitive list it is:

OFFICE DEPOT

We hurried here when we saw the big back to school flyer, even though it mainly featured conventional items. We’d also read the explainer box on the website for how to buy green, so we were excited to visit the store. Even though the sale flyer hadn’t emphasized green products, we wishfully thought they’d be there. We wanted to find, for instance, the Recycled Index Cards (pack of 500
$2.89). No luck. But at least they are available online.

Other items that we couldn’t find at the store, but that were available online:

Foray Recycled Groundwood Construction Paper (9 x 12 colors, pack of 50, $1.49 – see picture right); Office Depot Brand College Ruled Filler paper, pack of 100, (50 percent recycled content with minimum of 30 percent post consumer content; $2.49 each); and a cool Costa Rica Natural Banana Paper Recycled Notebook (2-subject; 70 sheets, $5.99).

The Banana Paper notebook is made of 100 percent post-consumer waste – it doesn’t get any more responsible than that – in Nicaragua using some banana waste and local labor. Shipping zaps a little of its low-impact appeal, but Nicaragua isn’t much farther than South Dakota from where we reside.

Another green notebook offered is the New Leaf 100 percent Think & Smile Postconsumer Recycled Notebook (80 sheets, $5.99; pictured above) with nifty bird and tree graphic designs on the cover. Pricing on both notebooks is steep, perhaps due to economies of scale?

For tadpoles the Office Depot website offers the 70-sheet Foray Recycled Newsprint Writing Tablet with a 1″ Rule ($2.19)

Pens? We finally found ‘em. Zebra is the brand to look for here. They make pens from plastic casings from old car headlights and compact discs and from plastic

shopping bags ($15.59 for a dozen).

STAPLES

Staples has really been pushing their green side, with ink cartridge recycling programs and recycled office papers (which are becoming requisite at all office stores) so we expected them to have the goods. They came through with this Mead Five Star Spiral 3-subject, college ruled notebook. It’s a familiar brand and it’s composed of 50 percent post-consumer material ($7.99 ).

We also found Staples College Ruled Filler Paper, a 400-count batch at a good price ($3.19 on sale) and the same Zebra pens made of 75 percent recycled material we found at Office Depot and for a slightly better price ($14.99 for a dozen in black ink).

Both of these were listed as Eco-Easy products on the online store, but we were unclear what Staples means by that. Some Eco-Easy products are simply non-toxic, say pens with water-based or soy inks; the site didn’t explain the eco-friendliness of “Eco-Easy” paper but talked generally about how “eco-smart” products save resources.

To help customers find items made of recycled materials, Staples uses the universal recycling symbol. So if you’re looking for either non-toxic or what might be called lower impact products, or recycled items, use the “Eco Easy” index online. We used it to find, for instance, low-odor Sharpies, which are better for kids.

One new cool new green item at Staples turned up in our browsing, the recycled rubber bulletin board. The blurb claims it won’t crumble like cork, that’s green and it’s available in brown or black ($54.99).

OFFICE MAX

We didn’t have great luck finding recycled school supplies here. A search for “recycled notebooks” turned up a lone 60-page steno pad. Pretty disappointing. The store does have a back to school sale going, but the focus is on price not sustainability.

Not willing to give up, we continued to poke around the website, finding recycled paper for printers,
(but all the office stores carry that) and recycled Post It notes.

Turns out, Max has recycled pencils by Paper Mate Earthwrite, made from reclaimed wood rendered in a simple #2 pencil (12-pack for $1.09). Hurrah! But not enough to build an order around. We also found this 1-inch EcoVue binder made by Aurora out of recycled plastic (no VOCs to worry about). Now they’re starting to get somewhere, and if they stocked these items faithfully in the stores, Office Max might make sense as a local vendor of green school supplies.

But we really started to have more fun, and expand our options when we looked at specialty venues online…

PROGRESSIVE KID

This store is..well, progressive. You’ll pay more a little more for some stuff, but actually many of their notebooks from the New Leaf collection are priced lower than in the big chain stores. New Leaf’s 120-sheet, 3-subject notebook, made of100 percent post-consumer recycled material ($6.99), is a good value measured against similar notebooks we saw.

You’ll also find neat stuff not available elsewhere like this metal sandwich box. Sturdy, reusable, non-leaching ($24.99).

And there’s the occasional oddball item, like the Spider Relocator, for brave parents modeling empathy and intent on saving insect-eating arachnids. Who knew?

RED APPLE SCHOOL SUPPLY

This company specializes in pre-packed green school supply boxes that the local PTA can order and sell. A great idea. They also sell individual items, like these FSC certified pencils (we’d prefer recycled however),
a decent buy (12-count for $2.49).

Beware that the “green” colored pencils they sell are imported from Spain, which would carry a significant carbon imprint if you’re an American household.

SMENCILS

Eco-friendly color pencils are not available in abundance. We couldn’t find any at the big office supply stores. But there is one variety that fits the bill, as long as you don’t mind them being scented, and that’s Smencils. They’re made from recycled newsprint, available in art supply stores, and can be bought in bulk at the Smencils website for fundraising purposes.

We’ve tried Smencils and they’re fun and sturdy. Find them at specialty stores such as the Stubby Pencil Studio (10 for $14)
and at Target online. (12 for $11.99).

GREENLINE PAPER COMPANY

Still looking for a site where we could buy most of our basics and not have to order from three different places, we gratefully found the Greenline Paper Company. They stock the school supply staples like loose leaf paper and notebooks, categorized under their school supply tab.

Their prices are reasonable and you can buy in modest bulk packs that are workable for families. For instance a 6-pack of college-ruled, 80-sheet spiral notebooks by Second Nature is $12.59. That’s about $2 a notebook, better than a lot of places, and not so much to tempt you off the green wagon.

A 500-sheet pack of 100 percent recycled college-ruled filler paper (40 percent post-consumer content), will set you back $6.95, not so bad considering you’re helping the globe hang onto it’s forests.

Greenline also has index cards and 33-cent pencils made from recycled old money. Double green points for choosing these because your kids will get questions and can spread the message.

RECYCLED PRODUCTS (.Com)

This site has a wonderful selection of pens and pencils and something you simply can’t find at your brick mortar stores, recycled MECHANICAL pencils. If you have a kid who just digs these, this is your spot. They’re made with reclaimed wood casings, and they’re reusable.

This store also offers PLA Pens, made of the biodegradable plastic. But you’ll need to place a bulk order for at least 250 (and call to get a price quote), fine for Student Council projects; overkill for household use.

SUSTAINABLE GROUP (.net)

Oh Snap! Binders, you’ve got to have them and they’re usually plastic. This site offers something different, the Enviro-Friendly 3-Ring Rebinder made of corrugated cardboard, with a cover that can be replaced. Read their explanation of the Rebinder for more info.

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