Non-Toxic School Supplies + Eco-Friendly Picks

It’s time for back-to-school shopping! From markers to erasers to backpacks to pencil cases and beyond, send your child to school with safer school supplies that don’t contain any harmful chemicals. Stock up on non-toxic school supplies with this safe school supply list. Most of the products are also eco-friendly!

Two kids heading down the road with backpacks on

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With back-to-school right around the corner, it’s time to look at your school supply list and start stocking the shopping cart with everything your kids will need for the year ahead. But before you get shopping, consider that some studies have found harmful chemicals in some of the school supplies being sold to school-age children.

  • A 2012 study by the Center For Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) found high levels of phthalates in children’s back to school products, including backpacks, lunchboxes, and 3-ring binders. Phthalates are used to soften plastic, including vinyl, and they can off-gas and leach from the plastic onto hands.
  • In a study conducted by U.S. PIRG, a public interest group, 27 back-to-school products were tested, and 4 of those items were positive for harmful chemicals (asbestos, benzene and phthalates).
  • Researchers in a Chinese study tested 62 erasers and found that 21 contained phthalates. In 18 of the phthalate-positive erasers, the levels were well-above the current established safety standards.

Shiny plastic vinyl pencil cases and scented erasers are two products that contain PVC and phthalates, which can disrupt the endocrine system and have been linked to adverse health effects. Check the list below and make sure none of the harmful chemicals are in your child’s school supplies.

WHAT CHEMICALS TO AVOID IN SCHOOL SUPPLIES:

  • Phthalates– Phthalates are a class of chemicals used in consumer products to make plastic and PVC soft and pliable, and they are also used as carrier oils for scented products, like scented school supplies (kid-friendly scented pencils, pens, and erasers to name a few). Phthalates are established endocrine disruptors that are linked to adverse health issues. A 2018 review found that current human exposure to phthalates may have effects on the male reproductive system (1), and a 2021 study links phthalate exposure in children to cognitive impairment, hyperactivity, and anxiety and depressive behaviors (2).
  • PFAS– PFAS, short for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a class of fluorinated chemicals that have water repellant, nonstick and stain resistant properties. PFAS has been linked to certain types of cancer, as well as thyroid disease, obesity, weakened immunity and other health problems- these chemicals stay in our bodies and persist in the environment for a very long time (3).
  • Microban– Microban is a proprietary mix of chemicals that may contain Triclosan, an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can cause bacterial resistance. Microban is engineered to protect products from bacteria, mold and in some cases algae that can cause stains, odors and product deterioration. Microban is not designed to protect users from disease-causing microorganisms.
  • BPA, BPS and BPF– PVC may also contain traces of the endocrine-disrupting chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that interacts with hormones in the body. Plastic containers labeled “BPA-free” may contain other bisphenols, such as BPS or BPF, which have the same harmful properties as BPA.
  • PVC– PVC (aka Polyvinyl Chloride or vinyl) is a flexible plastic used widely in kids lunch gear. It can contain harmful chemicals like lead, phthalates and BPA/BPS. PVC has been linked with adverse health issues like asthma, learning disabilities, reproductive problems and cancer.
  • Lead- Lead is a stabilizer in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and has been detected on the interior and exterior linings of lunchboxes. Lead can be wiped off and transferred onto children’s hands and food. Lead is a neurotoxin that has an adverse effect on a child’s developing brain and nervous system (4).
  • Solvents in markers– Solvents off-gas and evaporate as the product is used, and kids may breathe in the fumes. Many dry erase markers and permanent markers contain benzene, xylene or other solvents, which cause neurotoxicity in children (5).

Are you looking for non-toxic school supplies for your kids? I created a shopping list with everything your kids need to head back to school, minus the harmful chemicals. This list has recommendations for PVC-free, lead-free, phthalate-free, asbestos-free, solvent-free school supplies that you’ll feel good about buying. The best part is that most of the products are also eco-friendly! Give your kids the best start with non-toxic school supplies!

Non-Toxic Markers For School: Free From Solvents

Markers

Eco-Friendly Pencils For School: Free From Phthalates

Pencils and Colored Pencils

PVC + Phthalate Free Erasers

Erasers

  • What to Avoid: Erasers that contain phthalates and PVCs (most of these are not labelled as containing PVC and phthalates), erasers that are scented. In a Taiwanese study on phthalates and erasers, the researchers concluded that there was not enough data to correlate eraser color with the addition of phthalates – don’t assume that because your eraser is a certain color, it is free from phthalates. My recommendation is to buy erasers from a reputable brand that clearly states on the package that is PVC or phthalate free.
  • What to look for: PVC-free, phthalate-free and non-toxic erasers
  • Erasers to Buy: Faber-Castell, Tombow Sand Eraser, Flomo Eco Erasers, Staedtler Eraser
Non-Toxic Crayons For School

Crayons

  • What to Avoid: Super low-cost crayons and scented crayons. One study found that Playskool Crayons purchased from a dollar store contained detectable levels of asbestos. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, causing lung cancer and COPD. Surprisingly, trace amounts of asbestos (under 1%) are allowed in some products, including crayons. Repeated exposure to these small amounts is very concerning.
  • What to Look For: Crayons made of natural waxes and mineral pigments will not contain asbestos. Eco-friendly crayons are made of beeswax – a renewable resource. Crayola crayons are not toxic, but if you’re looking for eco-friendly crayons, you may want to choose beeswax. Crayola Crayons contain paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.
  • Crayons to Buy: Ooly Beeswax Crayons, Honeysticks Beeswax Crayons, Eco-Kids Crayons, Crayola Crayons
Non-toxic Binders For School: Free from PVC and Phthalates

Binders

  • What to Avoid: Binders with soft plastic covers that contain phthalates. Not all plastic-covered binders that were tested contain phthalates (Avery is one brand that doesn’t contain phthalates. It is made with polypropylene, with poly#5 in the recycling triangle.)
  • What to Look For: Binders made with or covered with natural fibers like book cloth or paperboard.
  • Binders to Buy: Book Cloth 3-Ring Binder, Paperboard Binder, Kraft Binder
Eco-Friendly Recycled Paper + Notebooks For School

Paper

Non-Toxic Pencil Cases For School: Free From PVC and Phthtalates

Pencil Cases

Non-Toxic Glue For School: Free From Solvents

Glue + Other Accessories

Non-Toxic Backpacks For School- Free from PVC, Phthalates, and PFAS

Backpacks

  • What to Avoid: Shiny, plasticky-feeling material that is probably made with vinyl, and may contain PVC, phthalates and lead. Stay away from backpacks with a #3 recycling code. Waterproof backpacks may contain the forever chemical PFAS.
  • What to Look For: Backpacks made from eco-friendly canvas, cotton, linen, or hemp; if you go with synthetic material, look for nylon and polyester fibers.
  • Backpacks to Buy: Petit Collage Backpack, SoYoung Backpack, Terra Threads Backpack, Fjallraven Backpack, Jack Wolfskin Backpack
PVC + Phthalate Free Lunch Gear

Lunch Gear

REFERENCES

  1. Radke, E.G. et al. Phthalate exposure and male reproductive outcomes: A systematic review of the human epidemiological evidence. Environ Int. 2018 Dec;121(Pt 1):764-793.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30336412
  2. Stephanie M. Engel et al. “Neurotoxicity of Ortho-Phthalates: Recommendations for Critical Policy Reforms to Protect Brain Development in Children”, American Journal of Public Health 111, no. 4 (April 1, 2021): pp. 687-695.
    https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.306014
  3. Nicole, W. PFOA and Cancer in a Highly Exposed Community: New Findings from the C8 Science Panel. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Nov-Dec; 121(11-12): A340.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3855507/
  4. Canfield, R L et al. “Environmental lead exposure and children’s cognitive function.” Rivista italiana di pediatria = The Italian journal of pediatrics vol. 31,6 (2005): 293-300.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675165/
  5. Dick, F D. “Solvent neurotoxicity.” Occupational and environmental medicine vol. 63,3 (2006): 221-6, 179. doi:10.1136/oem.2005.022400
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078137/
  6. Department of Environmental Health Risk Science Center, University of Cincinnati. Toxicity Review for Bis(2-ethylhexyl) Adipate (DEHA). Aug. 8, 2018.
    https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/Toxicity%20Review%20of%20DEHA.pdf?TSiSSb20aUy68dV0qk1AllBUrIaPFSaE

non-toxic and eco-friendly school supplies