Eco-Friendly Back-to-School Shopping

For many, this upcoming school year is going to be in-person. After spending so many months at home, many students (and parents!) are excited to be heading back to the classroom, where they can spend time with classmates and friends face to face. A new school year means new supplies, especially now, when we’ve spent the past year and a half using computers instead of the traditional paper and pen.

However, back-to-school shopping can create a lot of waste. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself drowning in plastic sandwich bags, mountains of new clothing, and stray pencils within a few months. While back-to-school sales may seem appealing, the truth is that your kids probably don’t need half of the things the store is offering.

School shopping lists are a myth too—while there may be a few things your child has to have, considering what your child will actually use is the best way to go back-to-school shopping, not what the school thinks they will use. The school shopping list won’t necessarily know that your son hates using pens, or that your daughter is prone to losing her loose-leaf paper!

Here are a few tips that will help you make your back-to-school shopping experience as sustainable, eco-friendly, and waste-free as possible.

Only buy what you need

This tip is pretty obvious—the best way to reduce waste is to not make it in the first place. When back-to-school shopping for your kids, consider what they really need, whether it be in their pen cases or closets.

Many kids have backpacks, pencil cases, or clothes from the previous year that they can use in the upcoming year (so be sure to check!). Why buy new things that will only be appreciated on the first day of school? Instead, teach your kids to reuse and reduce their waste by making use of the items they already have.

For the things you do need, don’t buy everything at once. Buy a few things to see how quickly they get used up, and refill when needed. Those colorful pens your child said they need? See how often they’re getting used in a month or two before splurging for a giant set. While pencils and pens may seem standard and worthwhile to buy in bulk, it’s ideal to wait and see how much your children need, especially if they’re younger.

There are also sustainable options for lots of items, and they are often better quality and cheaper in the long run too!

Sustainable backpacks & clothing

If your kid does need a new backpack this school year, consider buying an eco-friendly one! Backpacks made of sustainable, recycled, or long-lasting materials are all beneficial to the planet. 

Sustainable materials are often less resource-intensive, create less waste, and have less of an impact on the surrounding environment. Recycled materials help utilize resources that would’ve otherwise gone to waste. Long-lasting materials are good for the long-run, and help reduce waste (because you won’t have to buy a new backpack every year!).

You could also bring your family on a thrifting adventure. Thrifting new clothes and backpacks can be a fun experience for your family; you and your children will be able to find unique items they can’t find in a retail store. Whatever you do find, all you need to do is give it a wash before handing it off to your kids!

Eco-friendly food storage

Food storage for lunches can contribute to waste. Since kids will be heading back to school in many parts of the world, packing up food to bring for lunch and snacks can pose a problem for many parents. Instead of bagging up your food in plastic containers and bags, consider opting for reusable containers instead!

Lunchboxes are a great place to start. Rather than using the typical brown paper bag for packing everything up, invest in a lunchbox, bento box, or lunch bag. These bags are often insulated, keeping food hot or cold for hours while your kid is in school.

Instead of plastic sandwich bags or wrap, opt for beeswax wraps! Beeswax is a natural product made by honey bees and is much more sustainable than plastic and other materials. You can find beeswax bags, wrap, lip balm, and more!

Refillable pencils and pens

While this might not work for younger kids, your older children might benefit from using refillable pencils and pens. Rather than creating waste from a myriad of cheap pencils and pens, which usually get thrown out after just one use, consider investing in a few quality pens and pencils.

When the ink or lead runs out, you can purchase refills (instead of a whole new pen/pencil), reducing waste and saving money. Purchasing quality refillable writing utensils may also motivate your kids to stop losing their tools!

Eco-friendly highlighters, colored pencils, and other writing utensils are a few other options for making your back-to-school shopping more sustainable! These tools often create a lot of plastic waste—their sustainable counterparts are often made of recycled, recyclable, or eco-friendly materials and are much better for the planet.


Your family and friends, office, or older children might have some school supplies they don’t need anymore that could be perfect for your kids! Not everything your kids have has to be brand new—by making use of other’s items, you can help reduce waste and promote a circular economy.

All sorts of items can be handed down—don’t be afraid to ask or look around to see if anyone’s getting rid of their old stuff. Clothing, paper, backpacks, and writing utensils can all be found secondhand. You and your kids might be able to discover some unique school supplies or clothes you wouldn’t have otherwise found at the store, and save a lot of money too!

If your back-to-school shopping ritual is online this year, you’re not alone. To avoid the busy crowds and/or products going out of stock, many parents and students are opting to buy everything online. To make your back-to-school shopping even more eco-friendly, consider installing the free EcoCart Chrome extension for online shopping!

The EcoCart Chrome extension allows users to offset the carbon emissions created from shipping orders from thousands of retailers, including Hydro Flask, Marshalls, Walgreens, and more, many of which you may be shopping at soon! By shopping with EcoCart, you’ll be able to support dozens of carbon offsetting projects, which actively help to reduce the amount of carbon gas in the atmosphere, like the Tri-City Forest protection project.

Your back-to-school shopping trip doesn’t have to be wasteful. Finding items for your child to go back to school doesn’t have to be difficult – being mindful and thoughtful about your purchases will help you save time and money, and help the planet in the process.