Eco friendly back to school supplies: The ultimate guide to zero waste and sustainable stationery

When it comes to the beginning of the school year every store is filled with disposable and plastic-packaged essentials. It can be a lot easier than you think to make more eco friendly and sustainable choices, sometimes you just need to know where to look.

Affiliate disclaimer: Where possible I have added links to products to help you find them – they may be affiliate links and if you buy through them I might get a commision – just so you know! Thanks!

Buying eco friendly school supplies is becoming much more popular, and so you can find more sustainable stationery items regardless of if they’re pencils, notebooks, highlighters or erasers. You might not even realise it, but there’s a high chance that you’ll already own a few things, which will save you plenty of money in the long run!

Where should I look when buying sustainable school supplies?

Your home!

One of the best way to being eco friendly in any area is to use the things you already own! Before buying new sustainable notepads or pens, have a look around your house and see if there are any perfectly usable ones hiding on your bookcase or in your pencil case! I know that I have a pencil case full of ballpoint pens and pencils that I can use up before buying new ones!

Using what you already have in your house is not only a great way to save the planet, but it also helps cut down on impulse spending, which is always essential when it comes to stationery!

Buy secondhand

When you make your list of items you need when going back to school, see if you can get any of those items second hand! Thing like calculators can be really expensive (depending on the type you need), so try having a look on places like Facebook Marketplace or eBay first, or even a local thrift store!

If there are certain things you need for school that you can’t find an eco friendly alternative for, I would definitely suggest looking at a secondhand version before you nose-dive into buying brand-new. This way, anything you do buy secondhand will more likely come package free, so you won’t have to deal with any excess waste.

Zero waste stores

If you do need to buy anything brand new, then definitely take a look at eco friendly stores first! They sell multiple different brands so that you’ll have more options to look through, plus you’d be able to reduce the amount of shipping orders.

Zero waste stores are a great place to check out as most of the time they have loads of options when it comes to recycled pens, pencils, or even notebooks and tape.

Eco friendly school supplies


Now you’re probably thinking “well pencils are made of wood, doesn’t that make them automatically eco friendly?” and the answer is well, not really. Pencils are generally made with cheap virgin wood, which means that trees are being chopped down to make thousands of pencils – many of which aren’t the best quality either.

A great alternative to your everyday HB pencil are recycled newspaper pencils! Not only are these a good eco option because they don’t require more trees to be felled, but they are made using materials that have already been produced and given another life.

Another alternative, if you still wanted a wooden pencil, is to get seed pencils. Essentially the end of each pencil contains seeds, so when you’re finished with the pencil, simply pop it into a plant pot with some soil and watch it grow!

Notebooks or secondhand tablet

As with pencils, notebooks require cutting down trees in order to get crisp virgin paper, but what about all of the paper already made and being recycled? Well of course you can get notebooks made with recycled paper! Two really good brands to check out that both use 100% post-consumer recycled paper are Decomposition and Port West! Other brands to check out are FA VO and VENT for change.

Another thing to check out is second-hand tablets or electronic notebooks. There are a lot of brands that are creating tablets designed just for note taking and work, or you could even try out a touchscreen laptop that doubles as a tablet! I would recommend looking for refurbished products as these tend to be in really good condition – plus they often come with warranty if you’re worried about that.

If you’re after a tablet purely for note taking I would check out reMarkable and Kindle Scribe, but if you have an iPad or another smart tablet I would recommend a screen protector such as Paperlike.

Fountain pens and ink

If you happen to be one of those people that doesn’t have a lifetime supply of ballpoint pens, I would recommend trying out a fountain pen! Fountain pens can not only be really nice for lefty writers (since you have to hold the pen at a different angle anyways), but they can last you for years, and so reducing your waste!

Although they can take a little bit of time to get used to using, they will save you money as well as reducing your waste. The fountain pen I have is by Parker, which I’ve had for years and absolutely love, but there are different brands like Papier, and Tom’s Studio. Many brands also sell disposable ink cartridges, which might be a good idea to use while getting used to the fountain pen, but you can also get refillable cartridges and bottles of ink, so eventually you’ll only need to eventually buy new ink!

Highlighter pencils

Highlighters can be a great tool when studying, but of course they don’t last forever, and so require throwing away after a few years. Now that doesn’t mean you have to give up highlighting and annotating, because highlighter pencils are a thing!

Of course you could just use regular graphite or coloured pencils, but if you wanted the bright neon colours for your notes, you still can! An added bonus to highlighter pencils is that they won’t smudge or bleed through your pages, and they’re also known as “dry highlighters” since they don’t contain any ink, which means they won’t dry out or get ink all over your bags.

Natural rubber erasers

Now since in the UK we call them rubbers anyways, it actually took a while for me to find out that a lot of erasers aren’t even made of natural rubber, but instead synthetic rubber which is made of petroleum – aka plastic and fossil fuels. Now if you think about when you use an eraser, it breaks up and creates little piles of the used rubber. If the rubber is made of synthetic materials then you’re actually just breaking up plastic into smaller pieces, which of course is harmful to the planet as it can leech chemicals and be mistaken for food by wildlife.

This doesn’t mean you can’t easily get natural rubber erasers of course, and they won’t break the bank either. Brands to look out for include Tombow’s Sand and Rubber eraser, and Koh-I-Noor’s natural rubber erasers. Try and look for erasers that clearly say they are made of natural rubber too – some brands will say “pvc-free” or “latex free” but won’t specify if it’s natural or synthetic rubber (Faber Castell is one brand I noticed who does this, so just be aware!).

Refillable water bottle

No matter what age you are, having a refillable water bottle is a must! Personally I really love metal insulated because they keep your drinks cold for longer (literally a godsend if you’re out in the sun all day!) but they also last a lot longer than plastic ones do.

Now, before you decide to buy a new water bottle, do me a favour and check to see if you already own one – yes, even if it’s made of plastic! If you still own a refillable water bottle and it’s still perfectly usable, keep it and use it! Sure it might not be as aesthetically pleasing as you want it to be, but you’ll save yourself money and save the planet’s resources by using something you already own.

If, by any chance you do need a new water bottle, have a look around and see which ones would suit you best. There are so many different brands to check out, some of my favourites include Ocean Bottle, Chilly’s, Klean Kanteen, Yeti, One Green Bottle, and Tree Tribe. If you look after your bottle too, it should last you many years down the line – I’ve had mine from Tree Tribe since 2018 and I bring it with me everywhere!

Metal mechanical pencils

When it comes to mechanical pencils, I definitely think that buying a metal one is your best bet. Not only will these last so much longer than the cheap £3 ones from the supermarket, but they’ll often be made to last a lifetime and so you could be able to get them repaired as and when it’s needed.

Try and see if you can find one that suits you but should also last you a long time – I really like the ones from Tom’s Studio, they’re a little pricey but they are designed to last a really long time, so it’s worth the investment if you know you’ll use it a lot!

Natural wax crayons

If you have little ones or you like to use crayons as an art medium, finding some that are made of natural wax and pigments is definitely worth looking into. Your average crayon (i.e. crayola) is made from paraffin wax, which if you didn’t already know, is made from petroleum. As with everything else made from petroleum and plastic, it will take decades to decompose, as well as leech toxic chemical and micro plastics into the earth.

Of course, there is a more eco and safe option to use, without giving up using crayons all together. If you’re not vegan then you could try out beeswax crayons, which Sea of Grass and Honeysticks have a great range. If you’re after a more plant-based alternative, there are plenty of brands that are vegan too – both The Natural Crayon Company and Green Crayon are made with soy wax and have an amazing range of crayons that come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

Wooden rulers

I’m not going to lie to you, I still have all of my plastic rulers from when I was in school and I still use them regularly, so if you still have an old one I would suggest using that one as much as you can! If you do need need a new ruler or geometry set, see if you can find one made of either wood or bamboo.

Onyx and Green do a bamboo geometry set which is great if you need a new set, but places like Etsy or eco shops such as Planet Friendly Living or EarthHero also have loads of smaller brands to check out.

Lunch boxes

When it comes to lunch boxes and food containers, there are so many different items to consider using – but of course using what you already own is the best option. If you are in need of buying a new container, consider what you would be putting into the container first – do you prefer sandwiches, pasta salad, meals to reheat, or even soups? Getting something you’ll get the most use out of will safe you money as well as waste!

If you predominantly take sandwiches or cold lunches then I would suggest getting a metal lunch box – you won’t be able to heat them up in the microwave, but ones like this Leakproof lunchbox from Black+Blum will make sure nothing leaks in your bag. If you take things like soups or hot meals, you could always try an insulated flask from Klean Kanteen, which will keep your meals hot while at school or work! When it comes to snacks, I couldn’t recommend Stasher or Moonmoon bags more – these little silicone bags will keep your snacks fresh and won’t puncture or open either.

Metal pencil sharpener

I’m sure you’re probably thinking “well aren’t all pencil sharpeners metal?”, and yes, the blades on the sharpener are metal, but often you can find ones that come in a plastic or wooden body. While yes, I would say that getting one in a wooden body is better than a plastic one, metal ones ultimately will be fully and infinitely recyclable.

Metal pencil sharpeners aren’t even much more expensive than plastic bodied ones either – most supermarkets and general stationery shops will sell them, often for less than £3.

That’s everything on my guide to sustainable stationery, I hope they help guide you into a more planet friendly school year! Did I miss any items that you can’t live without? Let me know!

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