By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Getting our back-to-school game face on is hard enough without being forced into buying reams of virgin paper and plastic goods that fail to lighten our mood.

But going against the wave of cheap, plasticky school supplies is getting easier, and more affordable. There are a few hurdles that can trip you up. You may have to order from a couple different places, adding to your shipping costs and carbon footprint. But if you have any office supply needs beyond school, you could make up for that by ordering some supplies in bulk.

So here’s our 2012 annual guide to greener school goods.

Notebooks with recycled paper

Roaring Spring's Sugarcane paper notebook.

When our Environotes Sugarcane Notebooks by Roaring Springs arrived in the mail, I couldn’t help but think, geez, Beaver, these are just like regular notebooks.

Indeed, the paper in these notebooks is indistinguishable from regular, ol’ paper.

And you’re definitely doing right by the environment. Roaring Spring, based in Pennsylvania, estimates that through recycling the company saves 25,889 trees, 11 million gallons of water, 4690 cubic yards of landfill space, 6.4 million kilowatts of electricity, and eliminate 93,809 pounds of air pollutants annually.

We bought our sugarcane notebooks from Green Apple Supply, a non-profit started by a family in Colorado. But it’s available at a variety of other online stores and college bookshops.

Compostable pens and mechanical pencils, their time is write now!

Recycled or compostable pens and pencils have not been easy to find, and they are sometimes priced beyond reason. We recently found a cool looking pen made from recycled plastic being touted by one of those big box stores. We like that they cared, but the cost was too much, and frankly, we’re over recycled plastic, which becomes plastic trash too soon.

Compostable and refillable, BuffaloNatur pens connect the dots.

We prefer pens made of plant plastic Last year, we discovered Papemate “Earth Write” biodegradable pens, which are made with plant-based plastic. We like these pens because they’re biodegradable, and available in several colors. We tried a multi-pack with blue, black, red and purple ink.

This year we discovered some blue ink pens that we like even better because they’re refillable.

These pens are made either with bamboo and plant plastic, or entirely with plant-plastic, by BuffaloNatur. We bought the bamboo variety at Green Apple for $2.25 for a two-pack, or about $1.12 each. For comparison, the Papermate pens range from $2 each to about $1.33 each when bought in bulk on Amazon. Either way, these are down-to-earth prices.

The Buffalo Natur bamboo pen comes with blue soy-based ink and a promise that it’s 95 percent biodegradable, as is the packaging around it. Find out more at the website for Quebec-based BuffaloNatur, which makes a variety of green office supplies, including a corn plastic pen that is 83 percent biodegradable, apparently because it contains some recycled plastic.

We could debate the merits of plant-plastic, used by Papermate, and the bamboo,  a quick-growing, sustainable base material. Both will biodegrade in a landfill, but the bamboo did have to be shipped from Asia. On the other hand, the Papermate pens are made in China. So this could be a wash. Draw your own conclusions. (Get it?)

Buffalo Natur also wholesales mechanical pencils, made with bamboo and plant plastic. We adore these because they’re reusable and the kids prefer them anyway; though a regular pencil, made of some sort of wood or recycled denim or what-have-you, also disappears in the end.

We like that these plant-plastic pens and pencils rectify a long-standing problem with such products being only partially biodegradable and including persistent plastic components. Still,the next-best thing continues to be a recycled plastic pen, pencil or marker.

Jute pencil bags by BuffaloNatur.

Five green pencil pouches, some of which are red and purple

Before we leave BuffaloNatur, we must point out their wonderful array of biodegradable jute and plant-material pencil pouches. They’ve made these in five different shapes and designs. There’s a wide zip pencil pouch, a slim bind with attachments for inside a school binder, a gusseted pencil pouch, whatever that is, and some brightly colored jute pouches (the others are green or beige).

We found some BuffaloNatur products at the online EcoHome Store, a family biz based in N.M..

Coloring in green

Plastic-free highlighters.

You can get lost in the options here. We’ll keep it simple and suggest soy wax crayons, crossing our fingers they work better these days, for the elementary students.

For older kids who still need to illustrate their works, look for Forestry Sustainable Council (FSC) wood when shopping for colored pencils. One uniquely green and efficient product in this category is the wood-less pencil made by Koh-I-Noor and sold at Amazon. These pencils work well for kids of many ages, though these may not inspire serious artists.

Older artists may appreciate color pencils encased with recycled paper, like these sold by the artist’s supply store Poketo in Los Angeles, and other stores.

If you end up shopping on Amazon for some of your school needs, be aware that the vast majority of school supplies you’ll find have no green story. But you can find a few items that have been recycled, such as these highlighter pencils which find a terrific way around the traditional plastic encased highlighters that are destined for the landfill. These highlighter pencils perform the same function, and they’re biodegradable. You can buy them from….Green Apple (no we’re not working for them) on Amazon.

Messenger bags that don’t mess with the environment

Buffalo Natur, you’ve hit on something there with all these biodegradable jute products,

Not for 5th graders, but maybe their moms?

including this messenger bag made with 100 percent jute fiber and cotton trimming. It’s biodegradable (maybe too easily) and reyclable. And it’s a modest $42.99 at the Eco Home Store.

But as they say in Texas, there’s a mess of other recycled and eco-friendly messenger bags out there, such as this recycled sari messenger bag sold by Earth Lover ($49).  It’s positively cuddly, and colorful with a padded shoulder strap. Here’s hoping it holds up.

For those who’re going back to school, as in college, or even back to work, check out this sleek, carry-all bag made from recycled tire inner tubes and seatbelts ($118) at Alchemy Goods. It will hold an iPad and much more.


Upcycled binders made of recycled cardboard

Classy binders made of recycled cardboard, by Guided.

Guided brand paper products, made of salvaged cardboard, may seem a little upscale, oddly, for school use. But you can’t find anything this eco-friendly in most stores, and they’re not that costly at $5.29 each for 1.5″ binders, for instance.

These binders, the original inspiration of the founders, are made from 70 percent recycled corrugated cardboard, and they’re intended to be reused. Just rip off the used cover and get a new one, while saving the metal ring bar.

Guided binders come with their own set of blank labels, for customizing as needed. The real key here: No plastic. These upcycled American-made office supplies will never end up in the Pacific gyre, or any other waste gyre. Rest assured.

If you’d rather have something that’s more kid-like, Green Back Pack, an online store based in Kansas, sells this binder with a reinforced, color spine.

Looking for filler paper? Greenline sells 100 percent post-consumer recycled ruled paper.

Recycled steel paper clips….enough said

ACCO does for paper clips what Guided did for binders, decided to use recycled materials. And why not?

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network