When I went to High School, I remember it being the trendy thing to buy a new bag every year. Even if that bag from last year still worked and had no rips or tears. Thing is, I feel like a lot of marketing pushes us to “buy new” every school year. To make matters worse, most of the bags sold aren’t always made to last. I remember I had a flimsy drawstring backpack that didn’t even make it through the first day of school, let alone the entire year. We need to stop pushing overconsumption and instead focus on quality over quantity. So if you’re looking for sustainable backpacks that last for your kid, or yourself, you’ve come to the right place. All of the brands on this list are made from high-quality materials that have high performance and low impact on the earth.
FYI, this is a guest post written by Sydney Montagna, a zero waste advocate and aspiring writer. Intro was written by Ariana Storniolo. This post contains affiliate links. This means if you choose to purchase one of these items I will make a very small commission at no extra charge to you. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.
10 Sustainable Backpacks For Back to School + Beyond
Are backpacks eco-friendly?
Most conventional backpacks are made from virgin nylon or polyester. Both of these are non-renewable resources that leak microplastic fibers into waterways and oceans every time they’re washed.
Also, since backpacks are made up of a variety of different components and materials, it’s not an easy product to recycle. Terracycle does have a backpack recycling program, but this is not accessible for many due to how costly it is (tho you should totally encourage your school to offer it at the end of the school year!)
By default, I don’t consider backpacks an eco-friendly purchase, but they can be if they’re made from high quality materials and built to last.
Backpacks are made from a variety of materials. Here are some examples of materials used to make backpacks:
Most of these materials are sourced as virgin materials. In order to get virgin materials, they must be extracted from the earth using unsustainable methods, like drilling, mining or fracking. Then it must be transported to a fossil fuel powered factory where it takes more energy and resources to assemble those raw materials into usable ones.
Plastic is one of the most common materials in backpacks. But plastic sheds microplastics over time, which have actually been found in human lungs, feces, placentas, blood and even our brains.
I will never shame someone for buying a conventional backpack out of need or necessity. But if you can afford to, there are better options to choose from on the market.
What is an eco-friendly backpack?
An eco-friendly backpack simply means it’s sourced sustainably and made from natural and/or recycled materials. Here are the qualities that make a backpack eco-friendly:
- Sustainably sourced materials that don’t exploit people or land
- Made from natural/recycled materials like cotton canvas, banana fiber, vegan leather, etc. (These materials are biodegradable, durable, renewable and non-toxic!)
- Good working conditions and fair wages for workers (ex. Fair Trade Certified, Fair Labor Association, etc.)
- Charitable; donates to environmental causes (plants trees for every purchase, donates profits to animal sanctuaries, etc.)
- Company offers lifetime warranties, repair or recycling programs
- Made with eco-friendly dyes/ PFAS-free
How can I make my backpack more sustainable?
Purchasing a backpack made from eco-friendly materials and dyes from a brand that takes care of their workers is the best way to ensure you’ll have a sustainable backpack that’ll last you years to come.
However, if you already own a perfectly good backpack, it’s best to reuse it and utilize it as much as possible, rather than buy a new one. Learning how to repair your backpack can also save you money and extend its life.
Making use out of what you already own will always be one of the most eco-friendly options out there.
Yet another option is getting a backpack secondhand (ask someone in your friend group/family if they have any extra). Or, see if you can thrift one.
What are REI backpacks made of?
REI backpacks are made from 100% recycled materials, which helps keep waste out of landfills. They’re also bluesign-approved- meaning resources are conserved to help protect the health of the environment, workers and the wearer.
Are canvas backpacks eco-friendly?
Canvas is often mixed with cotton and linen to make backpacks, which are natural materials. Canvas backpacks are easy to repair if ripped, very durable and will last you a long time compared to backpacks made from other materials. Also, after they’ve become too worn and you decide to throw them out, they can easily decompose- even if it may take a while.
However, making canvas bags require a significant amount of resources during production and distribution. So they’re not the most “green” material to produce and work with.
But overall, it truly depends on who is producing and using the backpack. While canvas backpacks aren’t the most eco-friendly option, they’re still a reliable and great sustainable options. If you can commit to using your canvas bag until it’s worn out, then you make the most out of the resources used to make it.
The best sustainable backpacks
Here are the most sustainable backpacks on the market. All of these brands utilize sustainably sourced materials, are ethically made, and give back in some way. Many even offer recycling programs.
FYI, these bags aren’t JUST for back to school. Many of them can be used for hiking on long trails, outdoors, or just as stylish everyday bags.
Ariana’s favorites (aka Greenify-Me’s founder): I’ve personally tried Tiradia’s bag (though it was one of their shoulder bags) and found it to be extremely durable. I’ve had mine for years and it’s still in great shape, so I’m sure their backpacks are great too. I have a Terra Thread laptop holder and duffle bag and can attest to their durability as well. I’ve also gifted my friend a Fjallraven backpack a few years ago and she still uses it to this day on the daily!
Image Credit: Terra Thread
- 100% repreve polyester
- Ethically made in Vietnam
- Recycled trims made from post- industrial waste
- Plants 10 trees for every item purchased
- Adjustable straps
Image Credit: TenTree
- 100% Vinylon F
- Removable seat cushion
- Fair Labor Association
- Low material impact
- For children + adults
Image Credit: Fjallraven
Image Credit: Girlfriend Collective
- Made from recycled ocean plastics
- Finalist in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas 2020
- Carbon Neutral
- Drop-proof storage
- Expandable side pocket
- Water-resistant bottom
Image Credit: Solgaard
6. Pixie Mood
- Recycled vegan leather
- Vegan wool
- Recycled bottle lining
- Front, back & interior zip pockets
- Various size options
Image Credit: Pixie Mood
- 100% vegan
- Water & stain resistant
- Expandable side pockets
- Made from recycled polyester + nylon
Image Credit: United By Blue
- 100% repurposed nylon
- Climate neutral certified
- Interior/exterior compartments
- Mindfully made in the Phillipines
- Full-wrap zippered opening
Image Credit: Cotopaxi
- 100% organic cork
- Hypoallergenic, waterproof + biodegradable
- Sustainably harvested
- Handmade in portugal
- Plants a tree for every order
Image Credit: Tiradia
- 100% recycled polyester
- Fair trade certified
- Made in Vietnam
- 1% for the planet
- Hydration hanger
- Removable padded sleeve
Image credit: Patagonia
Would you give one of these sustainable backpacks a try? Let me know in the comments.
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Guest post: Sydney Montagna is an advocate for animals and plastic-free living. She is studying English and is an aspiring writer. In her spare time, you can find her watching classic TV shows and researching all things Michael Jackson related.