There is nothing like a good old notebook but here too, reaching for eco friendly notebooks is definitely something to consider. They make for a lighter footprint on the planet and help to protect our forests and trees. So whether you are getting ready for back-to-school or just love some nice handwritten notes, we’re going to look at what you need to know about eco friendly notebooks and some brands worth considering.
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Why choose sustainable notebooks?
Though notebooks can usually be easily recycled curbside when they are made of paper and cardboard, they translate to a lot of dead trees if the materials used are not sourced ethically. That’s because the paper is made from cellulose which is more often than not sourced from wood (i.e. trees). Papermaking, therefore, requires lots of trees and does contribute to deforestation.
Fun Fact: It is believed that paper originated in China in the 2nd century as an alternative writing material to silk.
Conventional papermaking also requires large amounts of other resources like energy, water, and chemical inputs like chlorine, and mercury. This is clear when considering the first step of the papermaking process which usually starts with turning the raw materials being used into a pulp.
There are two methods to do this and they are chemical pulping and mechanical pulping. You may be able to guess which one is the least desirable.
Chemical pulping involves inputs like sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide which in addition to heat helps dissolve the glue or "lignin" that keeps the wood fibers together. This process results in longer fibers which make for a stronger paper like printing paper for example.
With mechanical pulping, raw materials are fed into a refiner (or grinder) without any chemical additives, and the refiner breaks down the material into fibers. This process results in shorter fibers for things like newspapers.
Once the pulp is rendered, it is typically washed and bleached, refined, beaten (to increase the surface area of the fibers), sized, colored, and formed into sheets using a Fourdrinier machine.
All along this process, unwanted chemicals can be used for bleaching and dyeing the paper which we definitely want to avoid here too.
Alternatively, reaching for unbleached, recycled paper notebooks is the better alternative all around. Recycled paper requires less energy, water, and chemicals, and reduces the need for virgin materials in the form of trees or tree pulp.
In this case, recycled paper processing mills start by using recovered paper instead. With the help of water, this paper is turned back into a pulp using a machine that acts as a sort of blender. The resulting slurry is then passed through screens and other sorting processes that help to remove contaminants like ink, clays, plastic, or metals.
If you are particularly curious about how they get the ink off of the paper like I was, special systems and soaps or surfactants are used to wash or float ink and other particles away from the fiber.
Some paper mills use a mixture of recycled fiber and virgin fiber. This is better than all virgin materials, especially when the virgin fibers are ethically sourced and certified by third parties like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). In this case, the mills are usually designed to process virgin wood into pulp and incorporate the recycled pulp in with it. The recycled pulp is not usually produced on site but purchased in bales from another producer.
Our top picks for eco friendly notebooks
More sustainable paper products can also be made from other plant-based inputs like hemp, cotton rags, and wheat straw.
1. Decomposition Notebook (EarthHero)
XL ruled notebook anyone? Decomposition has got your back. Based in Brooklyn, New York, they offer notebooks of course — but also sketchbooks and pocket diaries. Founder Michel Roger intentionally set out to create sustainable stationary options for the environmentally conscious, and their selection features something for everyone, including sewn and spiral-bound notebooks, as well as standard and pocket-sized options.
Their XL ruled notebook contains 80 sheets (or 160 pages) and is made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, with a spiral wire binding, printed with soy ink. It ships plastic-free in post-consumer recycled content packaging. And both the notebook and the packaging can be recycled at the end of life. Just remember that the spiral cannot be recycled curbside.
They also offer a ruled decomposition notebook with 80 sheets of 100% post-consumer recycled paper, printed with soy ink too. It costs less than the spiral notebook and can also be recycled at its end of life. Major bonus, these sustainable notebooks feature really lovely designs on the cover that are a delight to see and use, and might just make your note-taking experience that little bit more pleasant.
2. Onyx + Green (EarthHero)
Founded by Danny Fonfeder, Onyx and Green are helping to break the cycle of waste generated from the use and manufacturing of paper across the planet. As such, all of their paper comes from sugarcane waste and upcycled construction waste. They also offer an entire line of products for school and for the office using low-impact, recycled, or recyclable materials. Their selection includes backpacks, pens, rubber bands, and calculators, as well as sugarcane paper notebooks.
Their Sugarcane Paper 5 Subject Notebooks are made from sugarcane of course, and the sugarcane is sourced from leftover sugarcane pulp. This translates to less water and less energy used compared to wood-based paper notebooks made from virgin materials. The brand also makes sure to avoid any bleach, which is often used to make conventional paper products white. This 180-sheet college-ruled notebook is held together by a metal side coil that can be recycled.
The cover is made from recycled paper, and for packaging, Onyx + Green notebooks use recycled carton inserts, soy-based ink, and recycled and recyclable content. You will also find a 1 subject notebook. For more eco friendly spiral notebooks, definitely check out this brand.
Urbankissed is a marketplace offering a variety of sustainable products using careful curation and slow living as guiding principles. Their beautiful selection of eco friendly notebooks is vegan, biodegradable, plastic-free, and ethically produced by CoralBloom, a family-run operation on a mission to celebrate the rich biodiversity of South Africa.
CoralBloom ensures that all of the materials and supplies used to make their products are locally sourced — and that they only work with printers that use eco-friendly water-based inks and energy-saving equipment.
We found their notebooks to be available in a wide variety of beautiful designs which are really a feast for the eyes. They are also not ruled — leaving room for creativity — though possibly not be the best choice if you are looking for eco-friendly notebooks for school.
Accompany is another global marketplace on a mission to change the lives of artists and designers around the world, by fostering economic involvement at the very center of the communities they work in. Here you will find a selection of sustainable and ethical products including home goods, fashion, kids' stuff like eco-friendly toys, gifts, and more.
Among all of the lovely things here are these gorgeous, handmade Marbled Bahi Notebooks made from recycled cotton paper. Again, if you need some lines as a guide this may not be the best fit for you but these hand-marbled notebooks are definitely worth a look if you are a lover of notebooks.
They are naturally dyed, crafted in India by Craft Boat, and contain 20 pages of beautiful unlined paper, as well as a back pocket for storage. It is also designed to open flat, making writing easier — so no need to struggle to keep it laying flat. As for the brand, Craft Boat focuses on promoting Indian craftsmanship and fostering community development.
Zero Waste Store is an online marketplace with a ton of zero waste essentials. Find hair care, oral hygiene, clean beauty, household goods, and bath & body goods. They also carry a Bamboo Notebook made from 100% recycled paper pages and a metal coil binding that is perfect for a super stable surface to write on thanks to a hard bamboo cover.
A great option for taking notes on the go — it is both durable and compostable — through the metal coil binding has to be recycled. The pages are entirely blank and unbleached creating a rustic feel we are super into. This one might also be a good option to consider if you are looking for a sustainable journal.
Northbooks focuses on clean minimalist design and that’s just what you’ll find here. They also specialize in notebooks made for everyday use and nearly all of their books are made entirely in the USA. Customer reviews rave about the brand’s high quality and perfectly designed products suitable for work, school, or the home. We especially love that they specialize in notebooks and are taking steps to make their mindfully crafted products more sustainable.
The wide selection of notebooks they offer includes a 3 pack of B5 College Ruled Journals which we think work well for eco-friendly notebooks for school. They are made of 30% recycled paper which doesn’t sound super great at first but the entire thing is made in the USA, plus all of the paper is sustainably sourced, and both FSC and SFI certified.
The textured cover for this design is also made from 50% post-consumer recycled, natural jute fiber paper. The entire thing comes together to be lightweight and a pretty good option for eco friendly composition notebooks. You might just have to let go of the standard idea of what a composition notebook looks like.
Their notebooks are also college-ruled and with every purchase, Northbooks promises to plant a tree in the rainforest in partnership with Eden Projects. The brand also offers options that are doted, plain, or squared rather than college-ruled which we absolutely love. More details could be offered on the recyclability of their products but these should be recyclable if they are taken apart.
How to recycle your notebook?
Generally, having a plan for disposing of our things from the beginning will help avoid any unwanted waste in landfill. There are two main types of notebooks to consider: composition notebooks and legal pads, and spiral notebooks.
Composition notebooks and legal pads are usually bound using a strip of fabric, paper, or cardboard, and the best thing to do with them is to take them apart. The recyclable components can then go into the bin. In this instance, that would be the sheets of paper and the cardboard cover (or back for the legal pad).
Some recycling centers do accept whole notebooks and legal pads so check out what your recycling facility says. You can also check with the manufacturer of the notebook or pad to see what they recommend. If you just want to stay on the safe side, separate the pages from the spine or binding, then recycle what is recyclable. If you are left with some non-recyclables at the end, just try to avoid that brand next time, and go with a product that is fully recyclable instead.
Spiral notebooks, on the other hand, are usually made from a metal spiral, a paper or plastic cover, and paper sheets. The best thing to do here is to separate the paper, plastic, and metal. The paper materials can be recycled curbside, but not the plastic cover (unless otherwise specified). Where the cover is made from cardboard you can chuck that in the bin too.
We would generally recommend going with a spiral notebook made from easily recyclable or compostable materials (like paper, cardboard, or bamboo) instead of plastic for sure. Even if it is recycled plastic.
That said, spiral notebook lovers rejoice! The metal spiral can actually be recycled which is why they are on our list here. The only catch is that they cannot be recycled curbside, and should be taken to a recycling center. If you are creative or crafty, the spirals can also be reused or upcycled for a clever project.
Some notebooks are bound with plastic spirals which can also be recyclable but make sure to double-check with the brand in question and with your recycling authority.
If composting is more your speed, composting the paper and cardboard from your notebooks is definitely an option but be mindful of the kind of inks used on the paper. Conventional ink can turn out to be toxic so if you are unsure about what ink you’ve been using, recycling this paper is the best thing to do. One of the main exceptions to that would be a newspaper which can be a great brown matter for compost heaps.
A final word on eco friendly notebooks
Whether you are looking for the best notebooks for college, or for something to use to jot down your notes, you should be able to find something for you. It might just require some adjusting though there are many brands offering more sustainable alternatives out there.
As always we recommend checking out your local thrift store to see what is lying around. You may be surprised to find some never before used notebooks perfect for your needs. If a few pages of them have been used, just tear them out and throw them in the recycling bin. I have even found some unused notebooks in my own home in the past so be sure to use those up too if you have any lying around.
For those gearing up for back-to-school be sure to pair your eco-friendly notebooks with some zero-waste school supplies and an eco-friendly backpack. And for more sustainable living essentials like clothing, home, plastic-free goods, and more drop by the brand directory. If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – sharing is caring 🙂!