By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Back to school time can be filled with fun as your kids anticipate a new year, a fresh crack at the subjects they love (recess, lunch, Chatting with Peers 101 etc.) and you get to send the lovelies off (their derrières and the couch) and back into some sort of forward-lurching motion toward a fulfilling and educated future.

But just try to send them with greener school supplies. Chances are you’ll be frustrated. I’ve been at this for a few years and have searched many glaringly lit mega stores and combed countless websites looking for reasonably priced, good quality notebooks, binders, pens and pencils made from recycled material.

I’ve wanted to scream at more than a few store clerks: Why is this so hard!

There’s either a total paucity of items; or they lack functionality, or most often, the green goods are offered like novelty or luxury items, with a price tag that’s often double or triple the common goods they’re replacing.

And as Groucho Marx might say, what’s the common good of that?

So here we go again. Get ready to fell some trees mom and dad!

This year there are many brands of recycled paper notebooks available. Some are made by big name companies, like Mead. Some are in-house brands, like Foray, available at Office Depot. Others like New Leaf, are totally focused on recycled paper products.

But all typically come with a green upcharge. Having noticed a shortage of green goods at the two big brand stores I’ve visited so far, I turned this morning to the web. My quest was simple:  Find the affordable stuff made from 100 percent recycled paper. I’ll spare you the tedious details. The bottom line: There are no perfect answers.

Foray's recycled paper notebook, reasonable, but not wonderfully priced at $2.79 at Office Depot

I had trouble finding a single school notebook (in 8.5 x 11) with recycled paper for less than $4. Many were $6 or more. That’s untenable if you are on a budget, and if your kids take notes at all.

Here are my best bets:

  • A Foray notebook, 90 sheets, with a color cover (for color coding at school) with 100 percent recycled paper (30 percent post consumer content) for $2.79 at Office Depot. (The Office Depot site helpfully popped up a parallel offering, a Foray notebook with 100 sheets of brand-spanking new paper — zero recycled content — for $1.09.)
  • EnviroTec’s 3-subject notebook, 120 sheets of 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper (bonus points for being completely post-consumer) for $6.25 at Discount Office Items.com. The price is stout, but in addition to being all post-consumer it’s got folder flaps for storage. The website offers everything and labels products that are green and/or Made in America.

Mead's new recycled notebook offering. Nice, but pricey.

I’d include these notebooks on my buy list, if their price came down:

  • New Leaf’s 3-subject college-ruled notebook made from 100 percent post-consumer waste (making it a bit greener) with 120 pages (making it a bit thicker) for $6.99. Whoa! So I can afford three? What about the other five classes junior’s taking?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m will to pay a green surcharge, up to a point. And I realize that these newer lines of products have scale issues. They’re not in as much demand and they may not be able to yet compete with those conventional notebooks churned out by the zillions and sold as “loss leaders” at many stores to snare back-to-school customers.

But really? It’s still cheaper to start with trees? I’m not sure I believe it. And what about the ethics at play here? Even if the manufacturers are launching new lines and charging a bit more, couldn’t someone reach a compromise beneficial to consumers? How about the retailers that so profess their love of the environment  move more aggressively to adopt these eco-products?

Here’s an idea: Big Retailer X chooses recycled notebooks to be sold at a discount as the loss leader of the season. That could  draw in customers, make it easy for them to choose the recycled alternative, and make a tangible environmental impact.

Talk about starting the school year on the right note.

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