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Going Back Green: Eco-friendly School Supplies

From denim pencils to scented book covers, school supplies available both online and in stores prove that "cool" and "green" are not mutually exclusive. Included: Seven simple, no-cost ways to go green this year.

"Everyone knows its important for sustainable, responsible products to become mainstream. But if 'green' products arent as affordable, fun, or fashionable as traditional products, they never will become the status quo," says Lauren Taylor of TerraCyle. "We believe its important to make our eco-products desirable and cool, so kids want to use them, even if they don't know its the responsible thing to do. Weve accomplished our goal when our products sell just because theyre 'cool' -- without us having to promote their 'greenness.'"

Drink pouches headed for a
landfill are now pencil cases..

Blending eco-friendly and trendy, TerraCycle creates totes, messenger bags, backpacks, homework folders, lunch boxes, pencil cases, and portfolios out of discarded juice pouches. The pouches are collected through a program called the Drink Pouch Brigade. Collecting groups receive a monetary incentive for a charitable organization of their choice. The program gives kids an opportunity to make a difference in the world -- one juice pouch at a time.

"We get great feedback from kids who are collecting with their schools and classrooms," Taylor told Education World. "Its so refreshing to hear stories of why kids think it's important to do what they're doing, or how they're using the money from their collections. Wed love every school and classroom in the country to get involved."

Juice pouches aren't the only products TerraCycle "upcycles" (use waste materials to make new products). The Brigade accepts materials regardless of product or brand, so no matter what kind of granola bar, chip, or juice students consume, the packaging can be saved and reused.

"With funding being cut for schools nationwide, our programs are an easy way to teach kids about the environment, while helping schools make a little extra cash at the same time," added Taylor.

Another "found" material thats upcycled by the company is discarded vinyl billboards. The former roadside displays are used to make TerraCycle's Yak Pak backpack and tote. The strong carry-alls are rugged, and each is a one-of-a-kind work of art.

"Every year in the United States, the vinyl from more than 3 million billboards is sent to landfills," Taylor reported. "That's almost 10,000 tons of vinyl -- roughly the weight of 2,500 full-grown elephants -- that does not biodegrade and will spend an eternity in our landfills. To address that environmental issue, TerraCycle and Yak Pak have partnered to construct durable, affordable bags and accessories by upcycling the difficult-to-recycle material."

Combining the strength and stability of billboard vinyl with expertise in design and manufacturing, the Yak Pak products not only are great-looking, theyre nearly indestructible. Each comes with a lifetime warranty. "That means the vinyl material once destined to sit in a landfill forever, now is being used to make a product that will last forever," Taylor observes.

TerraCycle products are sold nationwide by such major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, and Office Max. They also can be purchased online through Yak Pak bags are available in Urban Outfitter stores and online at Zumiez.


Set an example of caring for the planet with school supplies that recycle, reuse, and/or reduce waste.

Seven Ways to Go Green Without Spending It

Educators also can "green up" their classrooms affordably:
* Use a mug, not a disposable cup, for your morning cup of coffee.
* Reuse school supplies rather than replacing all items each school year.
* Start a program in your classroom to collect and sort recyclables (paper, aluminum cans, plastic).
* Use e-mail to communicate with parents, when possible.
* Use both sides of handouts, worksheets, tests, and homework assignments -- and then recycle them.
* Save energy and reduce costs by taking field trips to parks, museums, or businesses within walking distance.
* Shut off lights and unplug "energy vampires" -- small appliances (like computers) that consume energy even when turned off -- at the end of every day.

What classroom would be complete without crayons? It might be hard to imagine a way to improve on that elementary school staple, but Prang's Soybean Crayons boast an environmentally sound construction of soybean oil and colors that are brighter and smoother than their waxy predecessors. Have a stash of used and broken crayons? Leave the wrappers on the crayons and send them to the National Crayon Recycle Program. LuAnn Foty, founder of the program, and her helpers will turn old crayons into handcrafted, multi-colored "Crazy Crayons."

Tread lightly on your paper and on the planet with the Dixon Ticonderoga Recycled Tire Pencil. Each pencil has a #2 graphite core and a degradable, latex-free eraser.

Who knew that a pencil could be as attractive or comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans? Sold in packs of 12, Recycled Jeans Pencils owe their beautiful shade of blue to the denim theyre made from. The pencils are constructed of a minimum of 20 percent reclaimed denim from the manufacture of jeans.

Earth-friendly also can be practical. Made from recycled post-industrial materials, Pilot's BeGreen gel ink pens, rolling ball pens, ball point pen, mechanical pencils, and permanent markers are comparable to other writing instruments of their type, but theyre composed of at least 70 percent recycled material.

ForestChoice Graphite #2 Pencils and Colored Pencils are stylish as well as kind to Earth. The pencils are manufactured of California Incense-cedar wood that originates from environmentally well-managed forests. Even the packaging is made of recycled paper.

Created from rolled newspaper and soaked in gourmet liquid scents, Smencils are a treat for the eye, the nose, and the hand. Original Smencils are classic pencils that smell of bubble gum, cotton candy, root beer, and more; while Colored Smencils contain colored cores that correspond to their flavor -- purple has a grape scent and green is watermelon. Taking a test? Stimulate your brain with the aroma of peppermint from Smart Smencils. Their graphite cores are similar to those used in regular pencils, so theyre test-ready and olfactory approved!

Make your mark with AusPen whiteboard markers. Dry erase markers are a huge source of waste for classrooms that use them, but the markers from AusPen are made from 100 percent recycled material and are recyclable themselves. Best of all, the markers are refillable and built to last. An average teacher will spend less than five minutes a month refilling these markers, a task many turn into a "teachable moment" about the planet.

A single staple in a stack of paper seems innocent enough, but when its combined with countless other staples that have been used and discarded in landfills, the impact becomes clear. For small fastening jobs of five pages or less, the EcoStapler fits the bill. This stapler requires no staples. It pierces a hole in the sheet like a hole-punch and then ties and binds the extra paper to all the other sheets.

Tree-free paper can be pretty as well as powerful. EcoPaper offers attractive, eco-friendly papers with character. Its papers, notebooks, journals, and so on, are made from recycled materials and agricultural waste. The products with character are created from banana, coffee, cigar, mango, lemon, hemp, and sugar paper.

Working in conjunction with conservation parks, one company turns elephant waste into unique, scent-free paper products. Elephant Poo Poo Paper actually is created from the fibers of vegetation that remain in the dung, with an average piece of poo equaling about 25 large sheets of paper or ten standard-sized journals.

TerraCycles Yak Pak is made
of discarded billboard vinyl.

Save trees and protect your books with the colorful, elastic Book Sox. These stretchable fabric book covers come in prints, solids, heat sensitive (colors change when touched), and scented -- green apple, orange, strawberry, and tropical breeze. When the cover gets dirty, remove it and machine wash in cool water with like colors. Tumble dry and your Book Sox is ready for round two!

For a full lunch makeover, try a bento system from Laptop Lunches. Mimicking a laptop computer in design, these sets come with carrying cases and small plastic containers and utensils. Add a cloth napkin, and lunch becomes an eco-friendly feast!


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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