Head Back to School In Eco-Friendly Style!

Eco Friendly Choices for Back to School

part of a person, seated at a desk working surrounded by papers and a coffee cup

Here are our favorite eco-conscious ideas and Earth-friendly swaps to get you back to work or school in sustainable style!

Heading back to school or work and the daily routines that come with it is a great time to think sustainably! In some ways, it’s a second chance for a “new year’s resolution” - and that’s a great time to make some Earth-friendly changes to your everyday life! Here are a few places to look at your practices and product choices that we think are ideal to change up the status quo for something greener.  But remember, sustainability and living a more Earth-friendly life is not an all or nothing game. As long as you're doing what you can and keep adapting as you learn what works for you, you're doing great.

Lunch Buzz

A sandwich wrapped in Bees Love These sits in a divided stainless steel lunch tin with cherry tomatoes and a nectarine.

Hey. Have you met us? Who would we even be if we didn’t mention LUNCH?! But it’s tough to argue for a better place to start a more sustainable day to day than with the meal we eat, more than any other, away from home! Eating on the go need be neither boring nor limited to an ugly brown paper sack--give these ideas a whirl! 


You do not have to be a bento artist to have a sweet lunch. And, a variety of lunch containers can help you keep variety in your day’s vital vittles! 

Z Wraps reusable food wraps can wrap sandwiches, become a pouch, or cover a container. Fine for soup and such in the fridge, even we wouldn’t attempt to bring soup in a Z Wrap anywhere further than the threshold of the door to the microwave; that’s what glass containers with snappy super-seal lids are for! But Z Wraps can team up with lots of other options for a well-rounded meal (and a tidy space).

a lunch spread with a Packit lunchbox featuring a shark print

PackIt makes a zippered lunch bag that IS your ice pack, perfect for longer days and or salad lovers (it's the gray striped one in the title photo)! A steel container with compartments works great if you like to nosh on an assortment of delights and won’t need to microwave. And where some stackable styles include an insulated layer for hot meals, sometimes the true soup fanatic needs a good old-fashioned Thermos. A personal set or two of sturdy, reusable utensils is another great swap if you don’t want to find yourself reaching for a plastic spoon!

two Thermos brand insulated containers, one for drinks and one for foods

Reusable Straws

“But it’s just one straw?” said 7 billion people. Point made, right? No thanks on the plastic straw, please! Does anyone else feel like they’ve Officially Got It Together when they bring their own straw? Just us? Well, we don’t hate it. 

Our favorite straws by the way? We love Sux! We love the colors, the extendable size, soft and colorful silicone tips, their kit has everything you need, and the metal keychain case means we’re always ready to sip something. 

Reusable Bottle

You need a refillable water bottle in your life! Staying hydrated is so important to feeling good, and always having your own bottle will seriously change your water drinking habits by keeping it in sight and front of mind. Depending on your choice of bottle, it can also help keep your personal H2O stash icy cold, flavor-infused, or just plain good-looking.

a blue 48oz nalgene wide mouth reusable water bottle in the center of a school desk

Some of our favorite bottles? When your bev has to stay hot or cold (and bear proof doesn’t hurt), we go with Yeti or Otterbox. But when you’re trying to Hydrate or Diedrate on a budget, a 48oz Nalgene is a great value.

Coffee Travel Cup

We know you don’t forget your coffee. So remember the cup, too! So many places will pour your coffee order into your own reusable cup that it makes sense to keep a clean one handy if you’re known to get a hankering for some afternoon java. A favorite mug at your desk or a vacuum-insulated tumbler for extra portability will keep you caffeinated without the extra paper and plastic waste. 

We love big handmade mugs and Contigo SnapSeal for on the go style; serious java-lovers might go for a 20oz Hydroflask too.


“Brown Bag” lunch required?

Have no fear if that field absolutely forbids reusable anything (or if you just cannot send your kid with the good lunchbox to the aquarium)! Keep an eye out for sustainable options like waxed-paper bags, biodegradable (“fake” plastic!) utensils and containers, and think self-contained foods like bananas and oranges, Babybel cheese, and sandwiches with substance to keep trash to a minimum.

School Supplies

Back to school shopping always meant new pens and pencils, notebooks, maybe a planner- some of us STILL love shopping for these items, others not so much. If you’re just getting the essentials or if you stock the school supplies for the whole year in one go, here are places you can #choosetorefuse plastic!

NOT Foam Core Presentation Boards

There are bound to be presentations for class, so skip the foam core if you can avoid it! Corrugated cardboard options are much better as far as biodegradability goes, and there are also recycled versions of most poster and presentation surfaces. And, perhaps in a moment of need you’ll remember that almost anything can be double-sided!

So many more plastic free choice opportunities present themselves: crayons and colored pencils over markers, recycled paper book covers instead of vinyl wraps or spandex sleeves....a little creative thinking will take you a long way on this eco-swapping scavenger hunt.

Earth Friendly Staples

Recycled-material notebooks, printer or ruled loose leaf paper are always in style. Or just use up the rest of last-year’s notebook before starting another one. How about wooden highlighter pencils? Yes! Really any writing implement made from non-plastic or post-consumer recycled materials is fab! You could have a cute basket with a stash of scrap paper instead of sticky notes for I-Love-You’s in the snack bag or a grocery list in your pocket. Or maybe you use wax pencils or china markers instead of a black plastic markers and tape to label containers. Chalkboards or whiteboards to keep track of important family info and tasks. Anything you use more than once and that will break down when you’re done with it, we call a winner.


Eco Style

Lots and lots of new clothes and shoes are heading to school with somebody today. You can shop your values and look your best with some smart eco-swap choices. 


Back to school seems to ALWAYS mean shoes! It blows our minds, too. And of course, on top: every parent is in this shoe-buying boat as their kids grow, and all those shoes are adding up, eventually often in landfills! You can help by donating good-condition outgrown shoes, and being materials conscious when purchasing a new pair! Many major shoe brands have released sustainable lines made with recycled or biodegradable materials, sustainably sourced materials, or that support charitable and/or eco-conscious endeavors around the world. We can't tell you what brand will fit your feet, but checking with your favorites for a new line of Earth-friendly kicks is a perfect place to start your search. 


Like shoes, backpacks are a deeply personal choice with so many factors. We can’t name any specific favorites here, but just know there are lots and lots of sustainable options, and you can approach what constitutes a sustainable choice from so many angles based on what's most important to you and feasible for your needs and budget. These folks did a really thorough rundown of backpack options to get your gears turning, and so did these peeps

New Outfit: Thrift or Splurge?

Which is ultimately better: a potentially-pricey new item that meets all of your preferred sustainability standards, or a high-quality, affordable second-hand item? There is certainly a truth to the argument that using what’s already around (here in the form of thrifting) is a very eco-friendly way to operate (and shop). Whichever you choose, let your values be your guide.

Perhaps consider also: how you do laundry

Did you know you’re actually not supposed to wash your jeans every time you wear them? Sounds weird, but it’s true! Learning how to take care of your clothing and clean it correctly can vastly extend its life and preserve its looks. Many things don’t need as much washing as we give them. For the laundry you do, use cold water and the minimum necessary detergent wherever possible. A Cora Ball or GuppyFriend Washing Bag can help prevent microplastic water pollution from synthetic fabrics in items like workout gear and stretchy clothes. Even at minimum temperatures, reducing time in the dryer is good for clothes too; try using a set of dryer balls like this from Clean Cult to gently fluff, separate, and speed drying without cranking up the heat. If you don’t have a clothesline to hang dry outside, investing in a drying rack (which is easy because they’re pretty cheap!) is an idea for you. Skipping the dryer completely can help a lot of garments live longer, and as a practice can contribute its own nominal long-term energy savings as well. Take it from us, clothes dried in the sun outside on a nice day just feel and smell great. Worth trying at least once, right?


Bathroom Restock & Plastic Free Gym Bag Faves

No Tox Life logo

We’ve been loving seeing all the plastic-free bathroom trends become so popular! Some of our favorites for home and gym bags: Shampoo and Conditioner bars (No Tox Life has some, and Etsy has many more) and lotion bars (great for winter home and bookbag!) are two new favorites. Very old-school on the other hand but pretty awesome are plastic-free single-blade safety razors, which give a great shave at a great price. We're also loving glass or crystal nail files instead of disposables. Sometimes it's fun to feel like a *fancy* sustainable hippie, OK?! 

an Elate cosmetics refillable bamboo blush compact

There are sustainable brands popping up in all aspects of bath and beauty. For example, do you love makeup but want to go plastic free? Check out Elate Beauty! Gotta have juicy scents that are vegan and always animal-friendly? That’s Lush! Looking for staples available online from an Amazon-alternative that’s more down-to-Earth? Sites like Package Free Shop or the ZeroWaste.com web shop are each their own smorgasbord of delights! Once again, let your values steer your exploration and you are bound to find solutions to make your heart sing--there are so many out there!

Goals for a New (school) Year

New (school) year, new you?! Sure! If it’s got you motivated, move on it! 

We love the idea of a second round for resolutions. Why not set a family goal this year to do something for the planet? Maybe you commit to participating in any official community clean-up days in your town; or maybe your house decides on 2 meatless nights each week to try a new all-veggie recipe. It’s a great way to engage everybody in an ongoing conversation about what’s happening to the Earth, how all of us can help the planet, and explore what kinds of action can help in different ways. 

No matter what you’re doing, we hope you’re excited and ready for the coming year! Share your best sustainability tips with our community on social media for more ideas and encouragement.

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