Evanston students return to school this week and bring with them a fresh batch of school supplies. Retailers that sell school supplies spend thousands of dollars on print, broadcast and new media advertising to capture this lucrative market. Yet few, if any, of the items featured in these ads are eco-friendly.

A review of Sunday newspaper flyers for Office Depot (weeks of August 7, 14, 21) yielded these green results: Fiskars recycled scissors, 7-inch, and a stainless-steel water bottle. OfficeMax ad flyers for the same time period promoted only one eco item: Pentel EnerGel Pens, made from recycled plastic.

A careful examination of these local school-supply retailers’ websites showed that they do sell separate lines of Earth-friendly products. OfficeMax named its line Environmentally Preferable (www.officemax.com/office-supplies/environmentally-preferable), which is sold online only (free shipping with $50 order). The OfficeMax at 2255 Howard St. carries some of these green products in the retail store.

Competitor Office Depot’s GreenerOffice (www.officedepot.com/a/browse/greeneroffice) items may be ordered online for delivery only (free shipping with $50 order). The Office Depot, at 2722 Green Bay Road, does carry some recycled-content school supplies, such as biodegradable pens and recycled paper (in reams).

How are shoppers supposed to know about these green product lines if the retailers do not invest advertising dollars to promote them? Both the Environmentally Preferable and GreenerOffice lines are listed at the bottom of the sites’ homepage in small text. No banner ads or brightly colored photos draw attention to them.
No content in the 12-, 16- or 20-page full-color flyers mentions that eco-friendly products are available online.

Parents and students who are concerned about reducing their carbon footprint need to speak with managers at these suppliers and ask them to carry more green products in the stores. In today’s difficult economy, store managers pay attention to customer feedback and requests.

The other place to speak up is at the school. Bring up the subject at a PTA or School Board meeting. Each new school year, parents are provided with a list of school supplies for their child’s grade level.

Some surprising items, such as disinfecting or antibacterial wipes and sponges for kindergarten and first-graders, turn up on these lists. Most disinfectants, however contain harmful chemicals, and sponges are germ magnets. One school asks kindergarteners to bring a package of large safety pins; isn’t there a poking risk here?

Zippered-type plastic bags in sandwich, quart and gallon sizes are listed for kindergarten through fifth grades. It may not be appropriate for 5-year-olds to be handling gallon-sized plastic bags. S.C. Johnson’s Ziploc brand now has an Evolve line of ultra light bags made with 25-percent less plastic (www.ziploc.com).

Fifth- through eighth-grade students are instructed to bring a scientific calculator. At least one elementary school requires students from second grade on up to have an Evanston Library Card. Flash drives and combination locks are required for students at most middle schools.

Although some lists have brand-specific items, most are fairly generic, and that means parents can choose eco-friendly materials for paper, binders, pens, pencils and other supplies. It is okay to advocate and help Evanston schools work toward a greener supply list.

Contact Eco Gal at ecogal247@yahoo.com or read her blog: http://askecogal.blogspot.com.