Nontoxic Back to School Tips

Many of you are prepping your kids to go back to school. You’ve likely been given a long list of supplies to buy for the first day. Unfortunately, many common back-to-school items can contain toxic ingredients. It can be hard to figure out what’s safe and what’s not, and sometimes it feels like you almost need a PhD just to research nontoxic products for your children—and we’re already busy enough as parents!

We’ve put together our top tips for avoiding toxics for the back-to-school season. The good news is that every step you take to help reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, no matter how small, lowers levels of toxic chemicals and weights the scale toward good health.

Backpacks & Lunchboxes

Your kids will be carrying backpacks from class to class and to-and-from home. Those backpacks will be sitting in their bedrooms or the hallway of your home. School backpacks are with your children literally all year long. And so are their lunch boxes.

Problem: Backpacks and lunchboxes are often made with PVC, which is widely known as the most toxic plastic for health and the environment. In its production, it releases dioxins, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium and other toxic chemicals. The final product can also off-gas some of these toxic chemicals, like phthalates, which are linked to adverse effects on the male reproductive system, (i.e. infertility, decreased sperm, and even malformations).


  • Look for backpacks made with canvas, cottons, or natural materials. Keep an eye out for packs that are not lined with plastic. This may mean they could be more easily marked up, and you might need to wash your child’s backpack more often.
  • Opt for lunchboxes made from stainless steel.
  • To find out if you’ve got a PVC backpack or lunchbox, or how to avoid buying one, look for the recycling symbol inside the triangle. Avoid the number 3. You can also look for a V, or the letters PVC.


Problem: A 2015 study found asbestos in crayons. Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Not all crayons in the study contained it, but some did, and manufacturers didn’t have to reveal it.

Solution: Because asbestos isn’t something you’re going to find on the crayon label, the best way to avoid it is to buy soy, beeswax, or natural-based crayons as an alternative.

Reduce Use of Fragranced Products

Lots of school supplies come scented these days, from soap and wipes to markers and scented plugins to mask a smell.

Problem: Fragrance is an umbrella term for dozens of different ingredients that make up that scent, all of which companies are legally allowed to keep secret—even the toxic ones linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive harm. Kids who have ADHD or other attention deficit issues, sensory processing issues and allergies can find all of those things exacerbated by many common fragrance chemicals.

Solution: Send in fragrance-free crayons, soaps, and wipes.

Have a Conversation with Your Child’s Teacher

Use this as an opportunity to talk to teachers and other parents about your philosophy on protecting kids from harmful chemicals in everyday school supplies. Here are some talking points:

  • There are over 80,000 chemicals in use today, Only 200 of them have been tested by the government as to whether or not they are safe, and so it’s up to us to take a look at what goes into our materials and ingredients for the things that our kids are using each and every day, to figure out whether or not they’re safe.
  • Asthma rates are on the rise. About 12% of kids suffer from asthma. There’s rampant premature puberty. Cancers, childhood obesity, and autism are all dramatically on the rise. And they can be connected back to many of these kinds of chemicals.
  • Kids are not merely little adults; they breathe more deeply and more often than adults, which means they are taking in twice as many toxins with every breath in a single minute.
  • Whatever we can do to minimize their exposures will be meaningful to their health and wellbeing, their ability to study, concentrate, and focus.

Get Your School Involved

You can take it one step further by getting your school involved with the Healthy Green Schools movement, and converting your school to a healthier environment. Commit to learning about the science behind toxic chemicals, and why it’s important to limit our exposure to these harmful ingredients.

These are not minor things, though they may seem like it. Making a simple swap on this list will put your kiddos on the road to a healthier life. And if you want more ideas for products made with safe ingredients, check our list of MADE SAFE® certified products here.

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