At the end of every summer, most parents buy back-to-school supplies. It’s a ritual – and more and more parents are greening the process by asking how to pick the safest – and greenest – options.
To make that job a little easier, Environmental Working Group put together some school supply shopping tips this year. We focused on 11 common products that children often use (and parents are asked to buy) at school:
1. Art supplies Many contain toxic chemicals that are not suitable for children — especially younger ones. Pay special attention to paints, which should be water-based to avoid solvents and colored with natural, non-metal pigments.
Don’t buy polymer clays that stay soft at room temperature or can be hardened in a home oven — they’re made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and often contain phthalates. Consider making your own “clay” out of common baking ingredients instead. Note: A label that says “Conforms to ASTM D-4236″ simply means the product is labeled as required, not necessarily safe.
2. Crayons & markers Common crayons often contain paraffin wax, which is made from crude oil. Look for alternatives like soy and beeswax. Don’t buy dry-erase and permanent markers, which contain solvents. Be wary of plastic-encased crayons or scented markers — scents encourage kids to sniff them, and the chemicals used in the fragrances are not listed on the label. Try a pencil highlighter instead of the familiar plastic ones.
3. Glue Try to minimize kids’ exposures to extra-strong or instant adhesives like epoxies, model and “super” glues; they contain toxic solvents. Water-based glues are safer bets, though most are made from petrochemicals. Some better options are: glue sticks or white/yellow/clear “school” glue. Children should not use rubber cement.
4. Hand washing Choose sanitizers with ethanol (ethyl alcohol) but no fragrance, and liquid hand soaps without triclosan, triclocarban or fragrance. Check this product list in EWG’s Cosmetics Database. And remember: Plain soap and water is just as effective!
5. Backpacks If it’s time for a new one, look for natural fibers and skip those made with PVC. If natural fibers aren’t an option, polyester and nylon are better than PVC. (Check the label for #3, the symbol for PVC, or look for “no PVC” on the label.) Labels don’t always list the material, so you may need to contact manufacturers or visit their websites. Learn about more PVC school supplies to avoid in this thorough PVC-free guide from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
6. Lunch boxes Because they hold food, it’s especially important that lunch boxes be made from non-toxic materials with NO lead paint, PVC, BPA and antimicrobial chemicals like Microban. Some options are: cotton lunch bags, BPA-free plastic or unpainted stainless steel. Reuse utensils from home and pack food in reusable, rather than disposable, containers (such as lightweight stainless steel or #1, 2, 4 or 5 plastics).
7. Beverage bottles Skip commercial bottled water — it’s expensive, wastes resources and the water quality isn’t necessarily better than tap. Instead, send your child to school with filtered water and other beverages in a reusable bottle made from BPA-free plastic, BPA-free aluminum or stainless steel.
8. Pencils and pens Pick plain wooden pencils (no paint or glossy coating) made from sustainable wood or recycled newspaper. Skip the scented ones. Try to use recycled ballpoint pens.
9. Notebooks and binders Avoid plastic covers on binders and spiral notebooks; they’re usually made from PVC (#3 plastic). Opt for recycled cardboard or natural fibers instead, or look for “no PVC” on the label.
10. Paper products Look for recycled paper made from at least 30 percent post-consumer waste that isn’t whitened with chlorine bleach. Or consider virgin paper made from alternative fibers or sustainably managed forests. Choose 100 percent recycled tissues and paper towels made with post-consumer waste and without chlorine bleach. Avoid added lotion, fragrance and dyes.
11. Cell phones A lot of kids have cell phones. If purchasing a new phone, choose one with lower radiation (“SAR” value) by searching EWG’s cell phone database. Teach your child that when she’s not using it, she should turn it off, store it in her backpack or somewhere else away from the body, and text instead of talking. Get our eight cell phone safety tips.
Get the guide. You can download these tips, too, ’cause they’re mighty handy when you’re staring at all those crayons, notebooks and markers in the store!