No New Plastic: A Back to School Guide

by Sarah Keenan

I really cannot understand the obsession with a flimsy, thin crayon surrounded by plastic. Twistables were on the book list again.

However, I was thrilled to see the words “to be kept at home” i.e. they’ll never know I didn’t buy them !!

I dutifully bought a pack when my first daughter started school, but by senior infants I began supplementing missing colours with stubs of other crayons she had lying around.  This may sound lazy… or cheap… but actually one of the tenets of zero waste is “use what you have” (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it).

So on that note, how would “Use What You Have” look in reducing plastic at home and in our schools -in the madness of returning school?  

Very simply, it means look around your home or classroom and see what can be used -instead of “New Plastic” (along with its more insidious partner “New & Single Use Plastic”). If there are any teachers reading this interested in reducing plastic waste, step away from the laminator and please sign up to Recreate for Art and SESE materials!


Don't just SUP it, Wrap it.

Muslin cloths or thin/small tea-towels as a sandwich wrap. (Bread keeps very well in cotton)

Cheese bags that reseal

Take away containers

Random small sweet tins.

Buying Reusable

(always check on freecycle groups, adverts or similar first for a bargain and extra eco points)

Reusable sandwich wraps: Keep Leaf sandwich bag, Boc n’ Roll

Alternatives to zip lock bags: Stasher bags & Paper lunch bags

Lunchboxes or bags

(Have a quick look on Freecycle groups or Adverts etc. to find character or themed lunch boxes ‘new to you’.) Lunch bags: Recycled Material lunch bag , Insulated cotton lunch bag


Number one Mantra; Use what you have. I guarantee there is a stash of stationary lying in drawers around your house, classroom or school.  Set a timer for ten minutes and have a run around. It would take as long to sit down and order it and it will be in your hands faster!

New to You

There is equally likely to be someone decluttering long forgotten stashes of stationary -have a look on Freecycle or Adverts etc before you buy.

Buying reusable

Refillable pens, whiteboard and flipchart markers and highlighters:

Edding, Franken, Schneider and Stabilo are all examples of brands that do refills for pens, markers and/or highlighters. Look out for 'refillable' on the packet. You can find many in your local shop but may need to request that they stock the refills for you.

Ecoland do delivery of many of these brands and also stock refills. You can also buy pencils you can refill here.

Buying plastic free

Choose card, wood or metal over plastic if buying new. If buying workbooks for children, buck the trend and don’t get them covered in plastic by the shop (or reuse the plastic coverings from last year).


Choose the copy without the plastic cover (its shiny). You can buy paper wallets to cover them if you must (though you could go 1980s with it and cover both copies and workbooks yourself with something you have at home -if you felt like it.)

Recycled Covers

Kraft Paper workbook cover

And finally back to the dreaded ‘Twistables’. Jiminy do Stabilo colouring pencils and the wax crayons are safe to ingest if that was a worry. Your local bookshop should do Scola chubby stumps or Faber castell chublets or wax crayons (here). Crayola crayons still come wrapped in paper and have a large selection of colours.

Best of luck to all of you in the new school year and let us know how you get on with the “No New Plastic Challenge!”

Sarah Keenan is a mam, Múinteoir and waste reducing expert

Photos by CDC on UnsplashPhoto

and by Ben White on Unsplash