Back to School: A guide to a Less Toxic and Eco-friendly School Year

From the school hallways and lunches, to the backpacks and art supplies, our kids are surrounded and exposed to an array on toxic chemicals. Should we worry about it? Should we do something? Consider this, children are still developing and their bodies and brains are more susceptible than adults, and are exposed to these toxins more than the average adult. Certainly, we can’t send our kids to school in a hazmat suit, but there are ways that we can reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, be green, and gentler to our planet in the process.
What to avoid?

  • PVC. AKA vinyl and labeled as #3 plastic, is the number one offender and one of the most harmful. According to Healthy Child Healthy World, PVCs have been liked from skin irritation, asthma, ADHD, to cancer. Many soft lunch boxes, backpacks, art aprons, and many more contain PVC. A good indicator is if it’s a soft plastic, it is most likely PVC.
  • Phthalates. PVC’s partner in crime. Phthalates are used to soften vinyl plastic and they are released into the air, they have been found in dust particles to breast milk and in higher levels in children ages 6-11. A good indicator is if you can smell it, you are inhaling phthalates.
  • Lead. Lead likes to hang out wherever PVC is. Lead is often one of the additives used in the cocktail of toxins used in the manufacturing of soft plastics, and is often used as a stabilizer. During the process of “off-gassing” the result are VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, and lead is often one of the toxins found in the air contributing to poor indoor quality (read my article on how to improve indoor air quality).
  • BPA. I believe this is one toxin most people are familiar, a hormone disruptor that can cause early puberty, reproductive problems, and obesity, among others. As opposed to PVC found in soft plastics, BPA is usually found in hard plastics (think plates, cups, bottles) but can be also found in cans, sandwich bags, and dental sealants. (Be weary of “BPA-free” plastics, too, The Mommypotamus has a good article about it.)
  • Triclosan and Microban. Antibacterial and antimicrobial respectively, they harm the beneficial microorganism that call our bodies home, not too mention they are incredibly harmful to our environment (read more here). You can get my recipe for a natural and alcohol-free hand sanitizer here.
  • Solvents. These are found in aerosol sprays, permanent markers, glues, acrylic paints, and pretty much anything that it is scented. The problem with these is that they are released into the air as VOC’s.
If you just thought to yourself, “well, that leaves out just about every item my child will use in school” don’t dismay, luckily, there are many safe options out there to ensure your child has a less toxic and Eco-friendly school year!

What to look for?

  • Packpacks and lunch bags free of PVC, phthalates, and led. Here are some good options.
For preschool aged children

Green Sprouts Safari Friends Backpack

PVC and BPA free


    100% toxic free. No lead, PVC, phthalates, or BPA
    For Elementary through High School

    PVC free

    Nontoxic and made from recycled bottles

    • Natural dyes and renewable materials
    • Lunch gear made from stainless steel, silicone, packed in reusable bags.
    • Pack food and snacks free of pesticides, and artificial ingredients. Don’t miss part two of this series, we’ll talk about what are the safer options when packing lunch as well as a round-up of tasty lunch recipes and snacks, easy to make and pack!
    • Nontoxic arts and crafts supplies. Don’t miss part three of this series, we’ll talk about the toxic truth about “nontoxic” arts and crafts supplies, and what truly the safer options are.
    • Organic cotton school clothes, or gently used clothing. 

    What Can You Do? 

    Even if you send your kids to school with all the nontoxic products under the sun, the school is one of the places where kids are the most exposed to harmful toxins; from the art supplies used in classrooms, the cleaning chemicals the janitors use, to the pesticides and artificial ingredients and additives found in the school lunches. Let’s face it, we all know most school lunches,well, suck. Here are some suggestions how you can be an advocate for your child in school.
    • Get involved. Whenever your time allows it, volunteer in school to be aware of what it is used around your children, or simply ask questions.
    • Get informed. Learned what the safest options are from cleaners to food.
    • Get other moms involved. There is strength in numbers, rally other moms and ask the school to switch to safer cleaners, safer arts and crafts supplies, and to serve healthier foods in the cafeteria. I can’t remember who it was, but a couple of years ago I read a blogger had started a committee of parents to help the school give the cafeteria a Real Food makeover!  

    If we don’t take responsibility and advocate for the health and well-being of our children, who will? 


    Disclosure: and

    This post can be seen at: Small Footprint Firdays,

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    About Stephanie

    Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom to her curly-haired two year old son, a nursing student, dog lover, and yoga enthusiast. She loves to share her tips on making green and healthy living attainable to families getting
    started in the wonderful world of eco-consciousness. She believes in
    real food and living as natural as possible…and why not, leaving behind a
    better planet for our children.


    1. Great info!

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