I am 40 years old and I grew up in Italy. I was a child in the mid 80's and, like many of my peers, I was the target of a great series of advertisements, aimed at arousing in me the desire to own new toys, new clothes, new shoes and, of course, new accessories for school (backpacks, cases, markers, etc.).
At the beginning of each new school year, new products regularly came to replace those that had been presented to me 12 months earlier. A continuous cycle of purchase, use for a year, throw away, purchase again.
Fortunately, my parents, no matter how much they loved me (or perhaps because they loved me), never went along with every one of my requests. This is certainly to their credit, but if they had been able to read an article with advice on how to make my school kit even more sustainable, they would have gained some further useful insights. The same ones that I hope you will find below.
Do we really need a new backpack every year? Given the average resistance of a good quality backpack, I would say no. However, we should also consider the effectiveness of the advertisements that suggest that children and young people want a new one every year.
In this case there is no recipe guaranteed to work, but these ingredients could be useful. The first is to open a dialogue about how reusing an older backpack is a sensible, sustainable choice to be proud of. A nice backpack, even one bought in the wake of the seduction of targeted advertising, can easily last for entire school cycles. There is also the option of periodical personalisation (maybe with pins, decorations or other accessories) in order to give it a new life and a new aesthetic every new year. Finally, there are backpacks that make sustainability their trademark, from those made with organic and recyclable fabrics, to those made from plastic bottles and those that are accompanied by green sustainability initiatives.
I remember a classmate from middle school whose grandfather had bought a whole pallet of notebooks, which was packed in the garage at home. After a few months, in order to get rid of that cumbersome and very heavy mass of paper, he started to give notebooks to all of us classmates and anyone who wanted them. This is just to remind you that offers to save money by buying in bulk are very good, but sometimes extravagant!
When buying a notebook it would then be appropriate to consider that the paper it is made of is recycled and better still certified as PEFC™ or FSC®. These are the two most widely used international forest certification schemes. In short, they indicate that the paper is obtained from the processing of trees from forests managed in an environmentally friendly manner. Here, in English, useful for those who want to get an idea of the difference between these two certifications.
Pens and pencils
They didn't exist in my days, but today there are pens made of recycled plastic, bamboo, biodegradable corn and other sustainable materials. They represent a choice to be favoured over the more classic disposable plastic pens.
The same applies to pencils as to notebooks: look for products that are made from wood from sustainably managed forests. Then there are some really special pencils, such as the ones produced by Sprout. These pencils contain a biodegradable capsule with seeds ready to germinate. When the pencil becomes too short to use, it can be planted, literally, and give birth to a new plant. Unless you don't feel like planting a tree in an even simpler way ;)
Bringing something to school to drink and eat during the day can be a necessity for many children and young people. In that case it is best to avoid disposable products as much as possible. A nice aluminium water bottle may be the right choice to do without plastic. The same goes for food containers, so-called lunch boxes. As for placemats, if possible it is better to choose fabric instead of paper.
Finally, to make a school kit even greener, you can plant a tree dedicated to students: the Student Tree!
In general though, always favour the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.
To which to add a fourth R, useful to escape the impulses of consumerism: reasonableness.