Non-Toxic School Supplies

Written by:

Maia James

08/09/2018

Updated: 09/29/2023

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A lot of effort goes into keeping kids safe in school–from sprinkler systems to spongy “concrete” under the jungle gym. If you’re a reader of this blog, you are probably worried about other dangers—and specifically toxins–that might be found in your children’s school.

Not all of this can be easily controlled, but you might as well send them to school with only the non-toxic school supplies.

Alarmingly, recent headlines have shown that toxins like asbestos and benzene, both established carcinogens, have been found in children’s school supplies, like crayons and dry-erase markers.

This back-to-school season, replace toxic back-to-school products with the following upgrades.

1. Backpacks

Backpacks are typically made from synthetic fabrics and other materials (like glues) that can contain toxins such as lead, BPA, and phthalates. This is
particularly true for vinyl backpacks.

It’s hard to find a mass-produced backpack that is totally toxin-free, but because your kid isn’t eating off it or sucking on it (we hope!), you can rest assured with some okay options.

My biggest tip? Look for products that are free from PVC, phthalates, BPA, and lead (or labeled “lead safe”). Of course, if they are also labeled as earth-friendly, that’s the best option.

Best Non-Toxic Backpack Brands

Other Brands

Milkdot
Sleep-No-More
SoYoung
Stephen Joseph

2. Writing Supplies

Faber-Castel Eraser Pencils

Erasers often contain phthalates. Look for ones that specify they are phthalate-free, such as these.

Derwent Pencil Tin

Vinyl pencil cases and those made with soft plastic also usually contain phthalates. Use metal or cloth cases instead.

3. Lunch-Packing Supplies

Some old-school vinyl lunch boxes have been shown to contain unsafe levels of lead. Look for lunch boxes and bags that are free of BPA, PVC, and phthalates.

(And of course you’ll want to avoid plastic containers and baggies if you want your child to have only non-toxic school supplies this year.)

Here are my favorite plastic-free, non-toxic lunch-packing supplies:

Fluf Organic Lunch Box

Padded and insulated, this lunchbox easily wipes clean. The interior mesh pocket is perfect for holding utensils and ice packs.

Sandwich Wrap

Bee’s Wrap, made of beeswax and organic cotton, has been a revelation for our family–we no longer need plastic wrap!

Stainless Cube

I don’t worry about squished sandwiches when I use this stainless steel Solo Cube, which is also great for storing leftovers.

Stainless Steel Spork

This handy foldable spork is made of high quality 18-8 food grade 304 stainless steel and comes in a certified organic cotton pouch.

Silicone Snacker

These have been a go-to in our house for years. I fill them with berries, leftover pasta, or yogurt, and the cup collapses down when empty so it takes up very little room

Straw & Sports Bottle

These are the only bottles we’ve had–one can take you all the way from infant to adult if you want it to (you simply switch out the top). For school-aged kids, I go for either the straw or the sport top (both of which are made of silicone, not plastic).

(Here are even more great plastic-free lunch-packing supplies and here is some healthy packed lunch inspo. )

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Toxins in the School Itself

While you can’t control most of the chemical exposure your child may encounter in school–from paints on walls to vinyl flooring, there are some items you can send that will reduce the body burden of all the students lucky enough to be in your kid’s class:)

Bleach solutions and wipes are commonly used to clean classrooms. Bleach contains chlorine, which has been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption. Fortunately, there are safe and effective alternatives. Encourage teachers and cleaning staff to use natural antibacterial all-purpose products, such as these by CleanWell.

Antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers are a favorite among teachers who encourage kids to wash their hands after playing and before mealtimes. Unfortunately, most of these products contain toxic ingredients, encourage antibacterial resistance, and do little or nothing to halt the spread of bacteria and/or viruses. CleanWell is again my favorite for hand wipes, sanitizer, and soap.

Disposable plastic cups, common in classrooms and cafeterias, are identifiable by the #7 recycling code on the bottom. They contain phthalates. Send your kids to school with their own water bottle (see recommendations above) or a cup made from silicone or lead-free enamel.

Playground surface material provides a softer landing, but the rubbery stuff is made from recycled tires and is linked to cancer. Similarly, artificial turf is made from plastic and includes other components that are known to be toxic. Make sure your kids wash their hands after they play. Hopping in the tub and/or putting on clean clothes is a good idea, too.

Every year I debate being THAT MOM and lending these air filters to my children’s teachers. Maybe this will be the year I really embrace my roll as a neurotic and go for it

Stay sane,

Maia, Founder & CEO

Note: This article contains affiliate links or sponsored content, which means that if you make a purchase, we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that meet our strict standards for non-toxicity and that we use (or want to use!) ourselves. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that make Good Stuff! 

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Leave a Reply

  1. Bethany Avatar
    Bethany

    Hi, I know this post is from a few years ago but if you update it and have a moment you should check out Terra Thread. I have a few duffel bags, backpack, pencil case, and makeup bag. They are great quality and 100% GOTS certified organic cotton and have lead free zippers.

  2. Kaylah Avatar
    Kaylah

    Hello! You never committed on the Polysorbate 20. Why was that? Also, there were reviews on Amazon that warned of the mold collected on the lunch bag by Petite Collage, any comment on that, please? Thank you.

  3. Heather Avatar
    Heather

    Maia,

    I recently ordered the Clean Well Natural Hand Sanitizing Wipes that you’ve recommended in this article. However, are you concerned that one of the ingredients listed on the package is Polysorbate 20? I’m interested to hear your perspective, thank you!

    Heather

  4. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    I’d be tempted to provide the air purifier as well. Classroom plants are a nice idea as well. I’d never thought of that as a teachers gift. Going to tuck that one away 🙂 I have an Austin Air Purifier in my home. I have a Coway in my sons bedroom. I only recently read that some purifiers (Coway was included) can produce ozone. Would you be concerned about using the Coway without turning on the ionizing feature? I’m not sure I can afford a second Austin purifier at the current time. Thanks

    1. Maia James Avatar
      Maia James

      My understanding is that if you aren’t turning on the ionizing feature it shouldn’t be a problem…

  5. K Mcguire Avatar
    K Mcguire

    As a NYC teacher I would love it if a parent sent in a high tech air filter! A slightly less expensive idea would be some air filtering plants. I always have a few in my room but y can never have too many.

    1. Maia James Avatar
      Maia James

      Lucky students to have such a conscientious teacher:).