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Back to school: go sustainable and renewable

As the back to school season is approaching, new exercise books, pens, craft materials and stationery are needed. This guide will help children, parents and teachers to select high-quality, healthy, environmentally friendly and sustainable products to use at school and at home.

It is based on the German guide “Sustainable products for everyday school life” issued by the German network C.A.R.M.E.N. Lead pencils and crayons Crayons are to be preferred as unvarnished products. This is because varnished pencils can contain harmful substances such as phthalates, which can be absorbed when chewing on the pen. Natural lead pencils also come in variants which use a layer of wax, instead of varnish. Look for FSC or PEFC certified crayons and pencils. In case you use mechanical pencils, remember: replacing the refill instead of disposing of the whole pencil is definitely the environmental option to go for. Felt-tip pens, fibre pens Felt-tip and fibre pens usually contain little ink and are typically made of plastic. However, there are now products on the market which are made from renewable raw materials, recycled plastics or bioplastics. If in doubt, opt for the water-based felt-tip pens. And the general rule still applies: refillable products should be used, as they help to avoid unnecessary waste, as the same pen sleeves can be reused several times. Fountain pens Fountain pens made of PVC should be avoided due to the frequent use of phthalate-containing plasticisers: if possible choose those made of PE (Polyethylene) or certified wood (FSC or PEFC). Paper products The variety of paper products is immense: booklets, pads, folders, filing boxes, etc. When you buy them, look for the PEFC or FSC label which guarantees that the wood for paper production comes from ecologically, economically and socially sustainably managed forests. Copying and graphic paper products bearing the “EU Ecolabel” meet criteria which guarantee low air and water pollution during production, the restriction of hazardous substances and the use of certified fibres from sustainably managed forests. Glue It is possible to buy adhesive tape and glue sticks made of renewable raw materials and wrapped in bio-based packaging. Likewise, hand dispensers for glue and holders for adhesive films are available in 100% recycled plastic. Refillable storage bottles are an inexpensive, waste-saving way to purchase adhesive. Organic solvents are harmful to health: so solvent-free adhesives should be used instead and their residues should be water washable. Water paints Although they are a bit hard to find, there are some good paint sets, which contain colours made from renewable raw materials (peppers, beetroot, nettle, etc.) and which do not contain any harmful heavy metals. Punchers, stapler These little helpers make everyday life easier. These desk utensils are often made of metal and/or plastic. However, they also come in models made of recycled plastic or bioplastics. There are also staplers made of bioplastics which fasten without using a clip, just by connecting up to four sheets together via a punched slot. Rulers and triangles Rulers are available in various lengths in unvarnished wood. Those looking for transparent rulers and triangles can find them in online shops: still transparent, but made of bioplastics. Where to find bio-based school and office supplies? Many retailers already offer a number of bio-based products. Nonetheless, bio-based products may be hard to find or recognise, as few products carry a certified label or any other information indicating that they are bio-based. Product databases can help you to get an idea of the wide variety of bio-based products already available. The article “where to find bio-based products” presents databases which also include bio-based office materials. Erik Lohse, FNR (Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V.)


school, biobased product