Love it or loathe it, that back-to-school feeling is about to take hold. And with it come the exhortations to buy, buy, buy: new clothes, new shoes and endless amounts of new stationery.
I am not yet sure what the lists advise in my new schools, but I continually marvelled, back in Canada, at the requirement for countless pencils, dozens of glue sticks and endless duotangs. I may be fooling myself, but I remember actually looking after my pencil case and its contents, removing the need for a late August buying frenzy.
Indeed, I discovered in my recent move, that I still own pencils that date back to school days (it’s the tell-tale name at the end which gives this away). The kids marvel at the idea of naming a pencil, but I vividly remember this pre-school ritual and the relief I felt at having a nice, short name to speed up the process.
I try to promote the idea of taking care of items, in general, and using them for as long as they are functional (even if they are no longer shiny and new). My kids are probably scarred for life as a consequence. But one thing that helps me is if I purchase better quality kit in the first place.
As an example, my kids love Staedtler Wopex pencils. They claim strong eco credentials, feel good (slightly rubbery and heavier than the average pencil), write well and sometimes make it through the school year and back home for the summer (adding to the lifecycle benefits).
Compared to the pencils that are virtually given away at dollar stores across the nation, they are expensive (around $1 or 70p each), but the leads break only occasionally which is a huge plus. The stationery-phile in me loves them and the colours are great. They come in HB/2H and 2B.
Next on the list are (ring) binders. The heavy duty plastic ones are a bit tempting (I have several) and do last a long time, but then what?? Cheap plastic or vinyl covered files are a horror: they offgas, leach toxins and end up in the dump after just one school year (if the dump will take them). Not a good buy at all.
By far the best option, in my view, is recycled heavy duty paperboard binders. In the US, my favourite ones are from Naked Binder. They are simple, solid, highly functional and recycled/recyclable in full. They cost about $7-9 each depending upon size. Kids could have fun drawing on them, but I love them pristine.
The snag is that while the company does ship to Canada, this is not cheap. So stock up if you are in the US or share an order with friends.
In the UK, Paperchase sells a similar file, though only in lever-arch size. It is not quite as lovely to hold as the Naked binder but gets good reviews. There are various other options you can try: let me know what satisfies.
And remember that recycling your file at the end of its lifetime is also important. Avery recycled files make this particularly easy as the metal fittings unscrew from the paperboard cover. Both parts can be recycled (too few people keep scrap metal for recycling, but it’s an easy thing to do, even if your local council does not collect: I took a big pile – including a dismantled Avery file – to a Habitat ReStore in Canada before I left).
This post is getting too long, so I will finish, though I could obsess about pens and pencils for ever.
I should mention, though, that I was sent some great recycled newsprint pencils and coloured pencils by Treesmart a few weeks back. You may have seen these: they are made (in the US) of tightly wrapped newsprint, which is fascinating when you sharpen the pencils as it comes away in many ribbons. The pencils are a good weight and have nice leads, although I find them a tad thin for my big hands. The small pencil crayons are cute for younger kids.
The good news is that they have excellent green credentials and you can buy 48 pencils for $15, though this brings me back to the question of what anyone would possibly need 48 pencils……