1. Politely share the good news with your school/teacher that you are:
Working to reduce your waste footprint, so you’ll be using up the leftover school supplies you have at home from previous years before buying anything new.
Let them know you're looking for zero-waste alternatives to the disposable products on your back to school shopping list.
*it’s the equivalent of bringing your reusable cup to a coffee shop.
They'll be proud and supportive of a young person taking the initiative to improve their environmental impact, while also helping the school to discover ways to reduce waste and save money.
2. Figure out who “that teacher” is at your school:
The one who recognizes the urgency of the environmental crises we face today.
Hint: To find these teachers, look for clues such as National Parks bumper stickers on cars in the teacher parking lot, especially if you spot those stickers on bikes. Look for teachers carrying refillable water bottles, or an abundance of tote bags. Watch for the ones eating their leftovers out of repurposed glass jars, and seek out the ones heading up school garden or composting projects.
Any and all of these teachers are going to LOVE your idea to launch a “Last Plastic Marker” program in their classroom. It all begins here - really.
3. Raise awareness as you go :
Request a school announcement about the Last Plastic Marker project, submit it for inclusion in the school paper. Local papers are happy to run stories about forward thinking projects local students are leading - pitch the story so others can learn from the work you are doing.
4. Round up the school supplies you can find at home.
Clean, Sharpen, and Sort.
Take note of what needs to be thrown “away”
*Our interpretation of “away”: Away from where YOU are right now.
Once you’ve thrown the used plastic, vinyl, and spiral-bound items “away”, commit to not purchasing them again. From here forward, find tools that do the job without the permanent waste.
5. See how long you can keep track of your school supplies. Try it with a pencil. Wrap a small piece of masking or washi tape around the top of your pencil (around the metal ferrule that holds the eraser) so that you recognize your pencil. See if you can keep using that pencil until it is completely used up before reaching for a new one. We design our pencil tins to be just big enough for a few essential items because it's easier to keep track of things when there is less to keep track of.
Overabundance paves the way for a wasteful mindset.
6. Edit your backpack. Carry only what you need.
7. Scout thrift stores, flea markets, grandparent’s attics for plastic-free durable goods like forged metal scissors, wooden rulers and pencil sharpeners. Things that were made before “disposable” became the norm. I still have my grandfather’s Westcott wooden ruler that is 90+ years old - it’s a favorite, and frequently used tool I keep out on my desk at home.
8. Slow down and think before making purchases. This applies to everything.
Is there a responsibly made version of the item?
What happens to the item when you finish using it?
Is it authentically recyclable? (that’s a no for anything plastic, vinyl, or spiral bound).
Look for products that are genuinely repairable, reusable, and refillable.
9. Don’t be fooled by greenwashing.
“Made from recycled plastic” (it’s still plastic - and there is growing and valid concern over the increased toxicity of recycled plastics).
Hard pass on bioplastics altogether. They’re still plastic and pollute the environment (land + ocean) just as much as regular plastic.
Remember that the chasing arrows recycling symbol is nothing but a symbol - It does not indicate whether or not an item will be recycled. Anyone can print that symbol on anything - it's not a certification.
10. Follow Greta Thunberg. (FridaysForFuture.org) She gets it, and speaks critical truths without a filter. Humans young and old need this transparency in order to protect the natural resources and environmental ecosystems we all depend on.
+++ Send a picture of yourself with your teacher ally to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you’re working on to shrink your school’s waste footprint and we’ll send you both a Zero-Waste Academic Weekly Planner.