Sustainable School and Office Supplies – 19+!

Before we know it, August will be over and school will be in full swing!  Did you know that almost all typical school supplies are either not recyclable, or that kids just don’t recycle them at the end of the school year?  Instead they go sliding into the garbage, as they all clean out their lockers in a hurry, excited about the summer to come!  These items don’t degrade, and even if they did, we all know what happens (or doesn’t happen) in landfills.

The Wisdom Supply Company points out that at the end of the school year, kids clean out their lockers, and the pencil cases and binders and all go straight into the trash.  Is there a better way?  Let’s look at each item, and see if they’re recyclable, and see.

The Wisdom Supply Company works with schools, mainly two right now, near San Francisco, CA. Through this partnership, they have avoided throwing away .5 tons of plastic over the course of two school years!  They have calculated that EACH STUDENT was previously throwing away 4.3 pounds of plastic school supplies, every. single. year.

As a culture, we’ve developed a tradition called “back-to-school shopping.”  And it’s true, kids do get truly excited to pick our their shiny or plastic cool looking stuff.  But, we need to shift this mindset and create new traditions that don’t harm us and the planet.  We can do this!


Here are some awesome sustainable, healthy, non-toxic, and in many cases biodegradable school and office supplies!

One of my FAVES is the China Marker Wax Peel “markers” – they are truly awesome and WAY better than the highlighters I always used before!


#1: Notebook, NO SPIRALS

Municipal haulers tell Wisdom Supply Co. that they have to send spiral notebooks to the landfill because the twirly bits (the spiral) junks up the recycling machines and/or generally decreases the value of the recyclable paper.  And, let’s be real.  Do you take the time to rip off all the pages from the spiral, so you can at least recycle the paper? hmmmm….

Stitched, Non-Tear Out:

I personally use Composition notebooks.  They stay together/can take abuse.


Glued, Tear-Out

  • Environotes non-spiral Notebooks are neat – and the paper is made from sugarcane fiber in the U.S.A.  Wisdom Supply Co also offers non-spiral notebooks that are cheaper.  You may also be able to find non-spiral notebooks at your local store.

Smaller Size

Guided Recycled 5″ x 8″


#2: No-plastic Pencil Sharpener that will last forever

Buy it once and have it forever.  No electricity or plastic is needed in this manual pencil sharpener.  Attach it to your wall, a bookshelf, or a table.

Ranger manual pencil sharpener by X-acto, $13


#3: No-plastic scissors or low plastic scissors.

The only true non-plastic scissors are offered by Wisdom Supply Co (Westcott Forged scissors) and Tanegashima. The Kai scissors do have plastic on the handles, but they are such good scissors I added them to the list.

Craft/Office scissors

I can personally recommend the SkilCraft scissors, however, they are a little awkward and VERY sharp.

Fabric scissors

I have experience with Kai and Seitaro only.  I can recommend these personally.

Thread scissors

I can personally recommend the Kai.

Garage or Utility Scissors


#4: No-plastic Ruler
  • Options A: stainless steel: Wood River, 12″ (300mm) cabinetmaker’s rule is also an excellent value. It is made of hardened stainless steel with deeply engraved graduations. The finest graduations are in 64th and .5 mm. The rear face displays an inch to metric and fraction to decimal conversion table.
  • Option B: mostly wood: Wescott, 12″


#5: Biodegradable, No-plastic Tape

You can buy the tape dispenser if you want to get fancy and organized!

#6: Compostable and Recyclable Binders!

Binders are a huge contributor of landfill waste.

The metal part of the binder can’t be detached from the plastic, and the whole things gets tossed.  NO MORE!  In the words of Wisdom Supply Co: Why send any part of a binder to landfill? EVER?

Removable/Replaceable/Recyclable Covers

No matter what material a binder is made from, it takes a beating as it’s lugged and tugged between lockers, classrooms, and backpacks.

With the Guided Professional Binder, you can remove the abused cover, recycle it, and replace with a new cover – Zero Landfill.  Pair them with no-plastic tabbed binder dividers.  To replace the cover, unscrew two screw, and then replace with the new cover!  Super simple.

adding Replacement Covers to the assortment next season

  • Spine Width 1.56″ W
  • Front and Back Cover Size: 10.5″ W x 11.625″


#7: No-plastic, no waste, MARKERS!

In the words of Wisdom Supply Co….

“We (humans) throw “away” a stunning amount of markers (many hundreds of millions per year).

And what for?  What really justifies the use of a marker that will inevitably dry out and then exist on the planet longer than we can fathom?  Kid’s drawings?  Poster Projects??”


#8: No-plastic Highlighters!
  1. Ability One Ultra Fine-Tip China Marker (yellow)
  2. Dermotograph Goldstar China Marker Wax Peel “markers” (larger tip)

Ask Wisdom Supply Company for a few single yellow China Marker Wax Peel “markers,” or buy the whole set of China Marker Wax Peels linked above.  I use these and I LOVE THEM.  When the wax tip wears down, you peel off a layer of paper to reveal more wax.  Skip to minute three of this video to see how to do this.


#9: Colored Pencils

Forest Stewardship Council Certified.  Forest Choice 12 real cedar wood colored pencils.


#10: Simple Pencils

I don’t see why we have to have erasers on pencils.  It’s just more metal that goes to waste.  Buy some awesome ferrule-less STAEDTLER 123 60 natural wood pencils!

#11: No-plastic, no-toxins natural Rubber Eraser

Charles Leonard natural rubber eraser.  If you buy them from the manufacture, you have to buy 24.  If you buy from Wisdom Supply Co, you can buy only one, if you want.

There are other non-toxic erasers out there, but they are much more expensive, such as this Tombow Mono eraser from Dick Blick, for $5.16, which is made with natural latex and silica.  This Prismacolor Artgum eraser may be made of non-toxic materials, but you’d have to research more to know for sure…it is $0.89.

Conventional erasers are made from a variety of substances that I personally don’t want to add to the dust of the home when the bits get swiped off the paper onto the floor.  Some may read this and think I’ve taken things too far, but if we’re going to clean up our homes, there’s no reason to not seek out natural erasers.  Just because it’s a small item, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered.

#12: Refillable Pens

These will still generate plastic waste (due to the spent cartridge, but better than throwing the WHOLE pen away.  However, Wisdom Supply is working on sourcing metal cartridges which can technically be recycled via scrap metal.  They will be posting information about this on their blog when they have it figured out.

If you want to get fancy, try some old fashioned wood “pens” with metal tips, and make your own ink from black walnut hulls!  I’ve made mine in the following way, but I’m sure there are easier ways to be found on the internet:

1. the whole fruits turned brown cuz i left them sit a while
2. peeled the skin/flesh from the nuts
3. soaked the flesh/skins in water for 6 months.  yes, this is ridiculous and unecessary – i simply didn’t get around to it until that point (;  i boiled it for a while, let it cool, then strained – i used a fine sieve.  a piece of muslin would be better.
I’ve heard that you can add a bit of alcohol to the final ink to preserve it, but i didn’t do this.  one of my containers of ink was accidentally open to the air and it did mold a bit.  my other jar (mason jar) that closed tightly has kept fine.
You can even get more fancy, and make your own quill pen!


#13: Watercolor Paints / Glass Markers (Water Soluble) / Crayon / Grease Pencil / Grease Marker /
#14: Dry Erase Markers Full Set with refill ink

There are two options here.

Math:  6 (endlessly refillable) Pens  x  6 Bottles of Ink = (conservatively) the equivalent of 114 disposable dry erase pens

Each bottle of ink will refill a pen 18 times (25 drops per refill)

From the Auspen website: “Most people think ‘disposable = cheap’ – what we found is that it’s the other way around. Disposable costs more and its a terrible cost on the environment.”


#15: Metal hole-punch

I really recommend this Skilcraft Adjustable 3-Hole Punches – Heavy-Duty (NSN1394101) hole punch.  Why?  The larger hole size means that you can actually turn the pages that you put in your binder.  Less tearing, more ease.  It’s expensive, but it will never wear out.  


#16: No-plastic Pencil Case

Let’s face it – plastic pencil cases break within a few weeks.  Kids like buying new plastic pencil cases, and they also enjoy decorating them with permanent markers while they’re bored in class ;), but maybe you can persuade them to go with a waxed cotton or cotton zippered alternative.

Buy it once, not every year.

Look on Etsy for these.  I recommend RainbowBeeDesign, because she actually applies the beeswax to the fabric herself, rather than buying a toxic fabric that is pre-waxed with who-knows-what-wax. Here is a link to her pencil case:

Here is a link to a canvas pencil case on Amazon for $8:

A GREAT alternative is the Wisdom Supply Co-designed aluminum pencil tin.  Just enough space to keep a pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, and pen and waxed peel highlighter.  Don’t forget to buy the hushed so it doesn’t make noise in your backpack or purse.

#17: No-Spiral Weekly Planner – use for ANY year!

Wisdom Supply’s staples (sewn) three hole punched weekly planner has no dates – you put those in yourself, so you can use it anytime…you don’t have to throw it away at the end of the year if you don’t use it.

Spirals aren’t recyclable, so if you want to recycle this at the end of its life, make sure it doesn’t have a spiral!


#18: No-plastic Folders

These wear out each year, regardless if they’re plastic-ish, or if they’re recycled paper, so we might as well go with the humble recycled paper, from Roaring Spring Environotes.


#19: Non-toxic Glue

Make your own wheat paste glue anytime you need it by simply mixing water with white flour until it has the consistency of pancake batter.  After a few minutes, it should be ready to brush onto your paper like regular glue – this tutorial shows it being used to paste paper labels to glass jars.

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