“Waste is a design flaw.” That’s a quote from a start-up company in California that believes as guardians of the planet, it’s never too soon to take action nor too thoughtful to consider how our actions affect the environment our children will inherit. Wisdom Supply Company, a women-owned B-Corp based out of San Francisco, consists of two activists who found a way to take action against plastic waste by creating environmentally friendly supplies for the classroom. As students head back to school in whatever form 2020 brings, this duo has released a completely zero-waste solution to the typical pile of plastic and vinyl folders, binders and pencil boxes that are produced, used and tossed across the country each year.

cardboard binder, folders and planner

How it all began

Seeing the amount of debris that cluttered the waste stream as school let out for summer, founder Heather Itzla took action by donating waste-free supplies to her local school. Knowing one school was merely a hatch mark on the long trail of establishments that rely on standard-yet-wasteful products, the self-proclaimed plastic waste activist started a business, “for the sole purpose of stopping the insane amount of plastic and vinyl waste coming out of schools every year.”

Related: A guide to going green for the back-to-school season

Itzla’s co-founder and fellow environmentalist Nicole Kozlowski was eager to jump on board with the idea after committing to protect “the ocean and wilderness by addressing disposable culture.” Kozlowski was already taking action as an ocean advocate by participating in ocean pollution events, where she continuously crossed paths with Itzla. Seeing their common passion unfold, the pair launched Wisdom with a focus on setting a good example for the very children that will inherit the current plastic pollution crisis without education, action and change around the topic. They hope to show the upcoming generation that there are alternatives to standardized and mass-produced plastic.

person using zero-waste highlighter

Sustainable school supplies

Plastic has, in fact, been an exponentially growing problem across the planet, with debris making its way into nearly every corner of the environment, including the oceans, where it is ingested by marine life. This is not only unhealthy for the animals but comes full circle in animals we rely on as food, like fish. With this in mind, Wisdom’s mission is to “disrupt what we call the shelf-to-shore pipeline” by eliminating the waste where it begins.

The Wisdom Supply Co. products are all conscientiously made, packaged and shipped. Examples include cardboard binders that can be replaced for a few bucks, allowing you to reuse the metal pieces from the inside, an action that merely requires a screwdriver and a few minutes of time. This is more than a product, it’s a mindset, and one example of how a single act can significantly reduce the amount of supply waste. Other products available are plastic-free folders, paper-only planners, colored and unpainted pencils and a yellow highlighter. The company also provides a recyclable aluminum pencil tin set lined with wool that includes a pencil, metal sharpener, highlighter and natural rubber eraser.

wood pencil in metal sharpener

Some products are still working toward 100% plastic-free, like the Stabilo markers, which act as a regular marker, dry erase marker and watercolor all in one. The down side, as the company points out with its petition to the manufacturer, Staedtler, is a small amount of plastic film on the top of the marker as well as a plastic sharpener that, so far, is the most effective tool for the job.

In addition, Wisdom Supply Co. has put together two zero-waste kits for easy shopping. One targets the elementary-age classroom and the other is appropriate through college or even the adult home office. The kits make a great end-of-year teacher’s gift, too. By signing up for the rewards program, your gift purchases will pay you back. For every $25 minimum purchase made using the shared link, you’ll earn $5 toward a future purchase, and you can redeem multiple rewards within the same purchase to earn free items.

cardboard packaging for zero-waste school supplies

A certified B-Corp

Making wise choices is only part of the reason for the company name, Wisdom Supply Co. The primary inspiration actually came from the animal world, appropriately. In 1951, a wild female Laysan albatross hatched. Five years later, she was tagged for study and released back into the wild. According the the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Wisdom is the oldest wild bird ever recorded. Even more astonishing is her consistent hatching of eggs, even at the ripe age of 69. Nearly every species of albatross is listed as threatened, making Wisdom the ideal mascot for a company dedicated to improving animal habitats.

Wisdom Supply Co.’s commitment to all things environmental has earned it the coveted B-Corp certification, a designation gained by only around 3,000 companies worldwide. In addition, Itzla and Kozlowski have been acknowledged as a Best For the World honoree in recognition of their environmental performance and sustainable business practices. This places them in the top 10% of all B-Corps globally in the “Environment” category.

cardboard binder, planner, folders and a metal pencil tin in cardboard shipping box

We put Wisdom Supply Co. to the test

The team at Wisdom reached out to offer a zero-waste kit for me to enjoy and review. It’s always easier to write about products I can touch and feel, and these are samples I’m proud to have in my home. There’s no greenwashing here.

The tin pencil box is everything it needs to be: solid, durable, sturdy but still easy to open and close. The yellow highlighter/marker is nothing short of impressive. No plastic in sight and sans the cringe-inducing squeak from typical highlighters. I’m ridiculously excited about the metal pencil sharpener, because the electric one I used to have no longer has a cord. It’s a welcome replacement to the box knives I’ve been using as a pencil sharpener.

zero-waste school supplies on brown background

The binder is easy to put together and will be fun to personalize with stickers or markers. Ditto for the recycled and recyclable folders. They are thick enough that you don’t have to worry about tearing with regular use. 

The 2021 planner is full-size with adequate space to put multiple appointments on each date. Plus, it includes a calendar in the front for easy reference. It’s made from 100% post-consumer recycled materials, is FSC-certified and is chlorine- and ink-free.

While the thoughtful products and packaging are a breath of fresh air, what I love most about this company is the transparency. It is upfront about where product(s) fall short on the 100% plastic-free pledge and educate about companies it does business with. I love that the founders have taken action to solve a problem by implementing a viable, long-term solution. They’ve removed the design flaw. That’s Wisdom.

+ Wisdom Supply Co.

Images via Wisdom and Dawn Hammon / Inhabitat

Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by Wisdom Supply Co. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.