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Low Waste Learning

It's back to school season, so why not go back in style with low waste supplies? Read more from Abbey on how to keep waste low and IQ high.


While classes for some will be online this fall and will require little more than a laptop and webcam, many students will be returning to in-person classes and will need paper, pens, and pencils. Unfortunately, many school supplies create plastic waste. So, how can this waste be avoided?

1. Using Less

Does your school allow you to take notes electronically? If you already own a laptop or a tablet, this can be one way to save paper and pens. Annotations can also be made easier if assignments and classes are already posted online. However, younger students are typically not allowed to use this option. Some people also have difficulty retaining information in an electronic format.

2. Use What You Have

It is a common saying among zero-wasters that the product that generates the least trash is the one you already own. Mix and match old coloured pencils from previous years, replace labels on binders and duotangs, and tear out used pages of scribblers before throwing them out. Even old and broken crayons can be reused. A fun craft for younger kids is to melt down crayons and remould them into new crayons. Directions can be found here.

3. Buying New

At some point, students will run out of pencils and paper and will have to buy new supplies. Look for pencils made from recycled newspaper and compost the shavings as you use them. There are also coloured pencils made with recycled newspaper. Some binders are made with recycled materials and can be easily taken apart for recycling when they can no longer be reused. More sustainable items can be found here.

4. Recycling Old Supplies

No student is 100% zero waste, so what can be done about unusable school supplies? Crayola accepts used markers as part of their ColorCycle program, but this has been paused due to COVID-19.

When the ColorCycle program is running, Crayola accepts all kinds of markers, not just Crayola!

Is there another student that could use your old notes? There may be someone else who will take them.

I like to use old notes and assignments as wrapping paper for smaller items. Not only does this reduce waste, but it can also be a fun way to show what you have learned in the previous semester!

They can also be used to wrap fragile objects for shipping instead of bubble wrap. Paper can be recycled easily but staples cannot be put in paper recycling, so be sure to take out any staples prior to recycling. When recycling spiral-bound notebooks, don't forget to remove the metal or plastic spiral before recycling the paper.

School supplies can generate a lot of waste, but keep these basic principles of zero waste in mind and going back to school will be a breeze!


Abbey is a recent graduate of the Marine

Environmental Technology diploma program at the Marine Institute of Memorial University and lives in Wolfville, NS. She will be spending the next year completing a bachelor’s degree. She is passionate about marine conservation and enjoys sailing, hiking, cycling, and playing music.

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