American are expected to spend $82 billion in total back-to-school spending for K-12 schools this year, on par with 2017. Walmart and Target rule this seasonal market, Amazon not so much. (Kids like to see, touch and feel things.) But beware, some school items may contain hazardous stuff like asbestos, lead, phthalates and benzene.
Many parents and teachers shopping for their students’ 2018-19 school supplies look for a non-toxic “AP” certified label on the products, but many products don’t have that label, so it’s unclear if they’re safe or not.
The U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested dozens of school supplies including markers, crayons, dry erase markers, glue, 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, lunchboxes and water bottles.
The “School Supplies Safe Shopping Guide” warns consumers about those specific products, and offers suggestions for safer alternatives.
Out of the dozens of products that PIRG tested, most did not contain toxic chemicals. However, the tests and investigation found the following:
• Asbestos in Playskool crayons sold at Dollar Tree. Asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, has recently been found in other children’s products, such as makeup.
• Lead in recently-recalled children’s water bottles (Base Brands children’s Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle, once sold by Costco, and GSI Outdoors children’s water bottle, once sold by L.L. Bean). The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled both of these items because they contained high levels of lead. Lead can cause severe developmental and behavioral problems.
• Phthalates in Jot brand blue 3-ring binder. The levels of phthalates in the binder is considered unsafe for children by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. High levels of phthalates can lead to birth defects, hyperactivity, and reproductive problems.
• Benzene in Board Dudes brand markers. Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to leukemia, and disruptions in sexual reproduction and liver, kidney and immune system function.
The Coalition for Healthier Schools offers a “Back-to-School Toolkit“ too.
According to a recent survey by Gift Card Granny, the most popular stores for back to school shopping: Walmart (51%), Target (47%), Amazon (37%), Kohl’s (37%) and Old Navy (31%). The most common items that respondents will be buying this year include clothes or shoes (82%), folders, binders or notebooks (77%) as well as pens and pencils (74%).
The majority (64%) of survey respondents say they shop both in-store and online; 9% primarily shop online and 26% largely shop in-store.
The top five ways respondents save on back to school shopping include in-store sales (81%), coupons or promo codes found online (71%), discount gift cards (55%), cash-back credit cards/apps/websites (48%) and coupons from the local newspaper (45%).
The National Retail Federation (NRF) says total spending for K-12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $82.8 billion, nearly as high as last year’s $83.6 billion. The NRF says with one in four children belonging to Hispanic families, the U.S. Hispanic consumer is a critical driver of how families shop and spend this back-to-school season. NRF’s annual survey found that Hispanic parents are expected to spend $148 more than the average shopper this year.