The beginning of second semester represents a fresh start for many students. With new classes comes the need for new notebooks, pens, pencils and other supplies – and, as people continue to tap into their environmental consciousness, the need for products that will not harm the Earth. But because of the extra effort that goes into producing recycled goods, eco-friendly school supplies can sometimes be simply too expensive for students to consider buying over the regular versions. Considering the current financial situations of many students and their families, buying the cheapest product can often trump buying the greenest one.
“I haven’t really thought about buying recycled school supplies,” Mitchell Wood, Lyman Briggs sophomore, said. “I know it’s probably a good thing to do, but I just kind of grab what’s cheap.”
Some green school supplies are noticeably more expensive than their non-recycled counterparts. This may cause students trying to be frugal to turn away from purchasing them. For example, at the Student Bookstore (SBS), a 500-count pack of printer paper made of 30 percent recycled fibers is almost $4.00 more expensive than its non-recycled version. Assistant Manager Mike Wylie also said that SBS used to carry three-ring binders made of recycled materials, but had to stop ordering them because of low demand due to high prices.[wylie]
“People’s environmental friendliness only goes so far in the world of pocketbooks,” he said. “[The recycled binders] were really considerably more expensive than a [non-recycled] binder would be, while the notebooks, folders and pens are either the same price or cheaper.”
But keep in mind that being friends with the environment does not have to hurt your relationship with your wallet. While the amount of non-recycled items far outnumbers the amount of recycled items for sale in locations on and near campus, the environmentally friendly items are often not much different in price from the typical items. For some students, the consequences of buying unsustainable products in order to save a buck or two are too dire to ignore.
Whether it is colored, white, lined or blank, paper is one of the primary school supplies that students purchase at the beginning of each semester. Since the paper industry is a contributor to environmental problems, buying recycled paper products allows students to be greener by reducing the need for the destruction of forests. Paper manufacturers often destroy forests not only by cutting down trees but also by polluting waterways and wrecking plant and animal habitats. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, each American uses an average of 741 pounds of paper a year. For MSU students, the amount of homework, reports and exams printed on paper undoubtedly contributes to that number.
Environotes, a type of paper offered by Roaring Spring Paper Products, is made from a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer waste, and is 100 percent recyclable. SBS has several varieties of Environotes notebooks, including one subject and four subject spiral notebooks, which Wylie said are popular among students.
[colored pencils2]”Out of anything you would call recycled or environmentally-friendly, [the Environotes spiral notebooks] are our number one sellers,” he said.
While the notebooks used to be considerably more expensive than their non-recycled counterparts, in recent years they have dropped in price, and Wylie said he considers the Environotes notebooks decently priced compared to regular notebooks.
A four-subject notebook with 200 sheets of paper costs $5.99, while the non-recycled Roaring Spring notebook sitting next to it has only 160 sheets of paper and is only 50 cents cheaper.
For students willing to spend a few extra dollars in order to be green, SBS carries an even greener but more expensive notebook. SBS has a two-subject spiral notebook made by TNF Eco Papers that is made of 100 percent post-consumer content and banana fiber. The notebook is made from banana, coffee, and tobacco crop waste. Post-consumer content from previously used office, news and magazine papers is added to the waste from the raw materials to form the notebook’s pages. They are known as “Banana Paper.” The notebook is slightly pricey at $5.79, but has the highest percentage of post-consumer content, and offers peace of mind to those with the greenest intentions.
While buying paper made of post-consumer content and recycling it after use is one major way to make an impact on the environment, other school supplies are available in eco-friendly versions as well. Several stores around campus offer pens, pencils, folders, index cards, Post-It notes, sketchbooks and other products made from recycled materials at prices similar to their non-recycled counterparts.
[supplies]Since recent consumer interest in environmentalism has increased, many companies have begun producing eco-friendly lines of their products. Post-It, V-Ball Pens and Ticonderoga Pencils all sell both regular and recycled versions of their products. While it is a little harder to find these items, they are the same quality as the regular products, and sometimes are no different in price.
Various stores around campus, such as SBS and the Spartan Bookstore, carry selections of V-Ball brand recycled pens. The prices of the pens vary according to the type and amount of pens in each package, but overall, the prices are the same or a few cents higher than less responsible pens made entirely of brand new materials.
When it comes to attaching sheets of paper together, some types of fastenings can also be greener than others. Using paper clips rather than staples is better for the environment because paper clips can be reused, whereas once staples have served their purpose once, they go on to contribute to landfill waste.
It is possible to be green without buying products made from recycled materials. Students can also demonstrate their concern for the environment in the way they shop for school supplies. For example, buying supplies in bulk is usually an eco-friendly decision because it saves on wasteful packaging materials. Using pen ink refills and refilling ink cartridges for printers also saves on packaging waste and saves money.[katy]
Another cheap way to make school supplies green is to use a two-pocket folder with metal prongs and fill it with loose-leaf paper. This reduces the need for both a folder and a notebook for one class, and saves shoppers money. Also, because it is often difficult to recycle the wire binding of a spiral notebook, these wires often end up in landfills, and buying unbound paper in refill packs prevents waste of that kind. In addition, students can buy packs of regular or recycled filler paper in bulk.
What to Watch Out For
When shopping for eco-friendly supplies, there are a few keywords students can look for to figure out how “green” the item really is. Because the use of the recycling symbol is not government-regulated, it can often be used to “greenwash” consumers. According to Sourcewatch.net, “greenwashing” means falsely advertising a company, industry or product to seem environmentally friendly when it is not. Because of the recent popularity of eco-friendly goods, some companies brand their product with a recycling symbol in an effort to sway consumers’ purchases.
Instead of relying on the recycling symbol, look for labels that indicate a high percentage of “post-consumer content.” According to Oregon Metro’s Buyer’s Guide to Recycled Products, post-consumer content is waste that was diverted from disposal and was used to make a product. Labels that indicate the product is “100 percent recyclable,” also inform the consumer that if disposed of properly, the item will be recycled and re-used in the production of another good.
“I always take paper from old notebooks and put it in different folders so I can reuse it,” telecommunications senior John Crafts said. “Instead of buying all new stuff, you can reuse what you already have, which not only saves you money, but it’s less wasteful too.”
Recently, more and more members of the MSU community are discovering passions for “going green” in various ways. While the purchase of school supplies may appear insignificant to the green movement on first glance, there are plenty of ways students can contribute to the preservation of the planet through their purchases for the new semester.