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Close Up of Colored Pencil Tips

It is that time of year again -- back to school! The kids are compiling their “must have” lists for back-to-school supplies, and parents are wondering what happened to last year’s binder and backpack and how much of what’s on the list is really needed. With so much to consider already, how do you also make sure the supplies your children will carry to school each day and use throughout the year are safe and environmentally friendly?

There’s help. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) recently released its fourth annual “Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies,” which looks at environmental and health risks associated with common school supplies.

According to the downloadable guide, lunch boxes, binders and even school bags are often made from vinyl/PVC-- an unnecessary toxic plastic that is dangerous to children’s health and the environment throughout its lifecycle: from production, to use, to disposal. This unique plastic contains chemical additives such as lead, cadmium and phthalates, recently banned in children's toys by Congress. The levels of phthalates in children’s school supplies uncovered in testing commissioned by CHEJ in 2012 would be illegal if these products were toys. Even small exposures can be a risk to children.

Healthy Child Healthy World, an organization dedicated to empowering parents with the tools and resources to protect children from harmful chemicals shares these safe-shopping tips:

  1. No lead for lunch. Lunch boxes made from soft plastic vinyl may contain lead. While many manufacturers have responded to consumer concerns by removing this dangerous metal from their products, the safest bet is a metal lunch box or reusable fabric lunch bag.
  2. Learn the ABCs of PVC. In addition to lead, polyvinyl chloride, the soft flexible plastic found in everything from those lunch boxes to pencil cases and binders to backpacks and rain gear commonly contains phthalates, a toxic hormone mimicker. Vinyl is identified by a recycling symbol with the number “3” inside it, or the letters “V” or “PVC” underneath. Select PVC-free items instead.
  3. Ban the BPA. This potent endocrine disruptor is a common component of the polycarbonate plastics used to make reusable water bottles. And those bottles will add it to whatever they hold—beverages, soups, and more. Look for options made from uncoated stainless steel or those labeled “BPA-free.” Keep in mind the latter isn’t a third party certified claim.
  4. Stock up on safer supplies. Many markers and glues contain unsafe chemical additives like phthalates and volatile solvents, which are inhaled when kids use them. Strong fumes and odors are a key clue. Look for scent-free, water-based pens and white glues and glue sticks.
  5. Reuse! Keep in mind that you may already have all the pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, calculators, and other things your children need waiting in last year’s scholastic leftovers. The less you purchase, the more you’ll save. And we’re not only talking about money!

Do you have any tips on choosing safe school supplies for children?

Photo: Sgt. Pepperedjane

Peonies and Fern

Greenwrite is a prolific writer with an eclectic range of specialties that reflects her curiosity for just about everything. A former advertising creative director, she makes her home in Vermont, but escapes to a sunny beach whenever the opportunity presents itself.