5 Zero-Waste School Supplies Swaps

By Erica Loop in Thinking Sustainably

Your kiddo's school year is in the books. But you're stuck with random markers, stray crayons, a dozen half-pencils, cardboard folders, stray paper, and more. What are you gonna do with all this stuff?


According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans created 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste (or MSW) in 2018. If your child's partially used notebooks, binders, and other materials make their way to the trash, these would-be useful items will only add to this year's MSW total.


Before you repeat last year's overbuying efforts, check out these zero-waste school supplies, swaps, and substitution ideas that can help your family reduce and reuse!


Materials school


1. Use Everything and Anything from Last Year


Okay, so you're on the hunt for eco-friendly school supplies. While it's tempting to load up on new recycled gear from your favorite website or store, scavenge your existing stash first. You might surprise yourself with what you find in your family's junk drawer, your child's at-home workstation, or their backpack from last year.


Pool your haul and check each item off next year's supply list. You might find that you already have absolutely everything the little ones need for their next educational adventure.


2. Put Paper Together


Paper accounts for 40 percent or more of school waste, according to the American Federation of Teachers. This means your child probably uses tons of paper at school. All that, coupled with the steady stream of paper your kiddo uses to print essays or pictures of dinosaurs for that project, your kid alone has probably cost this world a tree or five.


Instead of adding to all this paper waste with a brand-new stack of notebooks, craft your own zero-waste, upcycled versions like so:


  1. Gather leftover loose-leaf paper and cardboard boxes.
  2. Flatten the boxes out.
  3. Use some paper as a size template and trace its rectangular shape onto the cardboard.
  4. Cut it out.
  5. Stack some loose leaf between two cardboard cutouts.
  6. Punch three holes on the left side of the paper/cardboard stack.
  7. Thread leftover holiday ribbon or pieces of upcycled cut fabric through the holes to bind everything together.
  8. Voila! DIY notebooks.


3. Switch One-Time Use for Reusable Options


Zero-waste school supplies should include plenty of reusable options. Forget about those one-time-use plastic zipper baggies you used to pack your toddler's pencils, pens, and markers in. Swap these landfill-bound options out for something sturdier! Dig up a bag-like item you have in your house—an old clutch, small purse, or unused makeup bag can double as a pencil case. Or reuse plastic-ware containers from the kitchen as sturdy school supply carriers.


School supplies


4. Set Up a Swap with Other Students


Switching out single-use items for reusable ones isn't the only way to green your child's school supply stash. Set up a supply swap with other kids from your child's class, friends, or neighbors. Someone else could use your child's end-of-the-year leftovers, and vice versa. A supply swap eliminates the need to throw away unused or partially used materials. It's also an easy way to find something "new" for your child that they'll need for next year.


5. Substitute Plastic Supplies with Paper Versions


According to the EPA, 27 million tons of plastic products ended up in landfills in 2018. Don't let your child's plastic binder or folders add to this statistic. Instead of plastic supplies, choose paper or paper-board versions. If you can't find suitable substitutes, make your own.


Again, a DIY cardboard and loose-leaf notebook is an easy way to upcycle what you already have on hand—and it eliminates unnecessary plastic! You can also reuse thicker sheets of paper to make hand-crafted folders.


You can also transform old shoe boxes into arts and crafts material storage. Encourage your little artist to get creative and decorate the outside of the cardboard with crayons, colored pencils, or markers.


Teaching Your Child a Life-Long Lesson


Kids always want the newest stuff, right? Every August, the school supply aisle fills up with plastic folders featuring that year's most popular TV show character and collections of highlighters that are a slightly different shade from the ones at home, junking up your home office. Your kids always want that, because it's new and cool and different.


But it's important to teach your kiddos, no matter what age they are, that the environment is more important than having the latest thing. Explain how their decisions can impact the forests, oceans, and landfills. And teach them that they can help make the planet a healthier place—even if it means using a cardboard notebook their mom made.


Is your family looking for more ways to help the planet? Check out the @tomsofmaine Naturally Crafty Pinterest board for more ideas!


Image Sources: Pexels|Unsplash|Pexels


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Why It's Good

Reduce and reuse with zero-waste school supplies! Instead of trashing leftover materials and buying a new stash of supplies each year, try these upcycling ideas and alternatives.