Back To School Zero Waste Essentials By Meagan from @hastywastetozerowaste

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It’s that time of year again! Time to get our brains back in gear, put our thinking caps on, hop onto the thinking train and start learning again! It also means early mornings, long days and late nights learning more math. How is there still more math to learn? We may never know, but a few things that can really brighten your day and make going to school just that much more fun are Zero Waste school supplies!

Not only are all of these Zero Waste supplies good for the environment, they’re practical, fun and good looking too! School can be a place where, unfortunately, a lot of waste can be created, from disposable pens, markers, tape, plastic pencil boxes and more. All of these things have a use, but eventually break or run out of ink and end up in landfills.

We are encouraged by marketing teams through commercials and advertisements to do back to school shopping every year. This means buying all new supplies, replacing old ones from the year before with new and “better” ones. This creates a mindset within us to use something without care,  knowing that you’ll just be able to replace it the next year.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to create a school supplies kit that is sustainable? One that saves the environment from being polluted with plastic and saves money out of our wallets. I have put together a list of some incredible and sustainable products that can help keep your school year Zero Waste and fun!   

I would also like to mention, before trying to buy these items new, check out your local second hand/thrift stores and find as much as you can before buying new. It helps save resources and gives new life to old products that still have so much to give!

1.Backpack

A backpack is an essential item for school. It’s how you get all your books and supplies to and from school. Comfort is key and of course we want to keep sustainability in mind. The first backpack that comes to mind is a Baggu backpack. It’s lightweight, made from 100% post consumer recycled cotton and comes in lots of different patterns for everyone's individual style. I have had mine for over two years now and it holds everything from a laptop, to books, to reusables and more! It’s got a drawstring top, a clip lock on top and two outside pockets. It is also machine washable which is so great! The perfect mix for fashion and sustainability in one. Jansport is also a great choice for backpack. They have a lifetime warranty on their bags, so if it breaks, they will either repair it for you or provide you with a new one. This may be a better fit for younger children or for anyone who needs a little more space for books.

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2. Writing Utensils

The perfect way to combat single use pens is with a refillable fountain or ballpoint pen. They look wonderful while writing and they last a lifetime. My favorite affordable and practical fountain pen is  Pilot. I personally have three different ones to cover all my bases. I have one for black ink, one for blue ink and one for red ink. This way I can still colour coordinate notes and organize my planner with different colours. The ink cartridges last a long time once refilled and can handle a good note taking session. I pair that with pencils that I either buy second hand, or I buy ethically and sustainably made ones (made from recycled wood).  When it comes to erasers, natural rubber erasers are a wonderful alternative to synthetic ones.

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3. Binders and Folders

For binders I love to use my cardboard frame. It’s sturdy, inexpensive and has a removable inside that you can attach to a new cardboard frame and recycle the old one. Such a wonderful system to be able to reuse long lasting parts and giving worn out parts new life by properly recycling. Another great, even more sturdy alternative to a cardboard binder are metal binders, which are more expensive upfront but last a lifetime. They are practically invincible and can definitely handle being shoved into a locker for many years to come. When it comes to folders, you can find many second hand and at the end of their life they can be recycled.

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4. Notebooks

When choosing a notebook for school, finding one that is completely paper is wonderful. One without spiral rings holding it together or plastic covers.  A blank notebook gives you the ability to really make it your own. Design it or style it exactly to your taste. It allows for more individuality and also gives you the option to keep it very minimalist and calming. To label my notebooks I usually create a label from old cardboard I have lying around. You can usually find them in a blank style for classes such as Art or Design, as well as lined and squared for English and Math classes.  They are lightweight, and fit perfectly in binders or folders, making for easy transportation.

5. Scissors, Rulers, Highlighters and Crayons

For all extra types of back to school supplies there is a Zero Waste alternative. You can buy scissors that are completely metal and made to last.  Rulers can be bought second hand and made from wood or metal instead of flimsy plastic that is easily breakable. Crayons can be found, that are made from natural beeswax or soy wax, using natural dyes that are safe for you and and the planet. Highlighters are extremely useful for highschool and university students, to organize notes and highlight important parts of lessons in textbooks. A zero waste alternative to a plastic highlighter is a wooden pencil highlighters. They are fluorescent and help to organize and show important information.

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6. Lunch Box, Utensils and Water Bottle

For lunch, a simple and easy alternative to buying lunch in disposable or plastic packaging is to pack your own. It saves you money and saves the environment at the same time. A wonderful lunchbox to pack lunch in is a stainless steel tiffin tin. They are lightweight, sturdy and dishwasher safe. I have one with two layers for lots of snacking options. I can pack a larger lunch in the bottom and snacks on the top. By all means use what you’ve got at home such a reusable plastic containers or glass ones to transport your meals to and from school. To ensure you can eat the lunch you packed for yourself, you can arrange yourself with a little utensil kit, equipped with a fork, knife,  spoon, chopsticks and a reusable straw. All of these essentials help you avoid disposable products. For a lightweight option bamboo is very light and easily transportable. Lastly, a reusable water bottle. Staying hydrated is very important throughout the school day. Bringing a full water bottle allows you to always have water on hand and then fill it up whenever its empty at a water fountain or in a bathroom sink.

Wishing everyone a  happy, fun and productive school year! I hope these tips helped you think of new ways to make this school year a little more environmentally friendly and a lot more fun!  

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Meet the Staff 

Maegan Elena is a 19 year old Environmentalist, Actor, Writer and Artist. She began her Zero Waste journey over two years ago in May of 2016 and fell in love with this way of life. She shares her tips, tricks and zero waste day to day on her Instagram @hastywastetozerowaste and her Youtube channel Zero Waste Diaries. She can’t wait to continue to learn more everyday about loving and caring for the planet and hopes to spread the word about sustainability through her acting, writing and art.