Back-to-School Supplies That Won’t Make Your Kids Sick

BY ON September 1, 2016

Backpack filled with school supplies
It’s back-to-school season! As you shop for school supplies, use this guide to choose the safest non-toxic options for your kids! (Tweet this) Remember, though, to reuse last year’s gear if you can.

Lunch Box – Some metal lunch boxes have been found to be soldered together with lead. Some plastic lunch bags contain PVC, a compound that contains phthalates, lead, and cadmium. Safe alternatives include lunch carriers made from stainless steel, silicone, cotton or hemp, or nylon. Check out Ecolunchboxes for bags and boxes in all kinds of designs kids will love. You can find sandwich and fruit containers there, too.

Water Bottles – You’re probably already aware that many plastic bottles are contaminated with Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that can leach into liquid or food. But BPA-free isn’t necessarily better, as my post, Think “BPA-Free” is Better? Read This,” points out. What’s best? Adults can get away with some of the cool new glass water bottles that are wrapped with silicone so they don’t break. But for kids, stainless steel is best. They come in small and large sizes, insulated and not. Kleen Kanteen offers many colors and a convenient 12 oz size.

Backpack – Like lunch boxes, backpacks may contain lead, vinyl, PVC and even phthalates. Lori Alper of Groovy Green Livin and a frequent contributor to Moms Clean Air Force, has put together this dandy list of non-toxic backpack options for kids starting at age 5.

Paints – When kids paint and draw, their little noses and mouths are usually so close to the paper that they’re practically lying on it. That might make it easier for them to create art, but that also means they might inhale fumes that the supplies emit. That’s why Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families urges parents to beware of oil-based paints that contain chemical solvents like methyl alcohol and toluene. It’s also a good idea to avoid art supplies colored with pigments made from cadmium, arsenic, and lead. Water-based paints, or those made with vegetable and fruit dyes, are safest. You can get recommendations for specific non-toxic art supplies here.

Markers -Look for markers certified for low- or no- toxicity by the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Even then, before you buy, remove the marker cap and sniff the tip. If the smell is powerful, chances are the marker contains xylene, toluene or other chemicals that cause nausea, headaches and possibly even cancer. Water-based markers are best.

Crayons and Pencils – Most commercial crayons are made with petroleum-based paraffin. For my own kids, I chose crayons made from beeswax or soy. The colors are rich, the texture like that you’d expect from a crayon, and they pose no health threats to kids. Most pencils are made from graphite, not lead, which is good. But you can also find pencils made from recycled paper, wood or cardboard. 

Glue – Skip rubber cement, model glues, spray adhesives, contact cement, epoxy, and “super glue.” These all contain volatile chemicals you definitely don’t want your kids breathing, especially if they’re in nursery or elementary school. Better options are glue sticks, white liquid glue in dispenser bottles, or adhesive tape. You can also try making your own glue out of flour, water, sugar, and vinegar. This video shows you how.

Paper – Paper won’t make your kids sick. But why not go ahead and buy recycled paper, anyway? Look for paper made from a high percentage of “post consumer waste,” which means it’s actually been used before and recycled itself. If the paper packing simply says “recycled” on it, that means that it’s probably made from other paper that’s been collected, which is still a good choice.

NOTE: When you shop, avoid supplies that are designed for professional artists or adults. Choose those that display the non-toxic seal put out by the Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI).

TOPICS: Children's Health, Schools, Toxics