Going Green When Going Back to School

Vermont’s children will be breathing a lot easier in school this fall thanks to a revolutionary law passed by the state earlier this year that mandates green cleaning supplies in all schools. With an estimated 48 pounds of commercial cleaning supplies used previously per year per custodian, this law has legs. It requires cleaning supply manufacturers to sell only environmentally preferable cleaning products to schools in Vermont.

“Providing a healthy environment for our kids is critical to their development,” says Senator Ginny Lyons, Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee and Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee.Using green cleaning products in schools provides kids with healthier school buildings as they begin this school year. The Senate Education Committee is proud of its work with VPIRG to pass the law that made this possible.”

Following on the heels of this landmark ruling, Vermont’s largest non-profit consumer advocacy organization called the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG, with over 20,000 members and supporters), has launched the parent-friendly “Back-To-School Guide for Safer School Supplies,” which pinpoints the toxic chemicals to avoid in everyday kids’ products.

“VPIRG’s ‘Back-To-School Guide for Safer School Supplies’ helps parents steer clear of potentially dangerous products,” said Lauren Hierl, environmental health advocate for VPIRG. “Although the State of Vermont has in recent years banned several toxic chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and lead from specific consumer products, many back-to-school supplies still contain these toxic chemicals and others.”

Here, a sampling of the VPIRG Guide’s Back-to-School Dos and Don’ts:


Do: Natural fiber

Don’t: backpacks with shiny plastic designs (may contain PVC or lead)

Crayons & Markers

Do: soy or beeswax crayons; pencil highlighters

Don’t: paraffin wax crayons; dry-erase and permanent markers (contain toxic solvents); scented markers

Art Supplies

Do: Paints that are water-based and colored with natural, non-metal pigments

Don’t: smocks made of PVC; modeling clays made of PVC (contain phthalates)

Hand Washing

Do: additive-free soaps; hand sanitizers with ethanol but no added fragrances are also okay

Don’t: soap and sanitizers with additives like antimicrobials and fragrances