Last Updated on August 12, 2021
Back to school shopping is a huge market – in 2015 alone, Americans bought over 174 million backpacks, according to the Travel Goods Association.
Personally, I still have my backpack from the the 8th grade. It was a very well made Ralph Lauren backpack. But not every backpack is made equal, and there are some that won’t withstand a year, let alone several.
If you’re in need of a new backpack, investing in a high quality, durable, and sustainably made backpack is ideal. You want a backpack that will last you, but also is made with the workers and environment in mind.
The bags featured on this list are ethically made, have an assortment of compartments, and are giving back to our world and its people. Here are 12 eco friendly backpacks perfect for school, hiking, travel, work and beyond.
how to choose eco friendly backpacks:
When looking for eco friendly backpacks, go for sustainable materials:
Most backpacks are made up of a mish mosh of materials all at once. They’re almost always virgin materials which require more energy to make and depletes natural resources to get.
These are the materials most commonly found in backpacks:
- Rip-Stop Nylon
- Ballistic Nylon
- Kodra Nylon
A majority of the time, brands are not transparent about where they source these materials and how they were treated.
In order to get virgin materials, you must first extract them from the earth using unsustainable practices, such as mining, fracking, or drilling. Then it takes more energy to assemble those raw materials into usable materials.
Plastic is one of the most common materials in backpacks. As we know, plastic doesn’t break down, it just breaks up into microplastics over time.
You’ll want to invest in brands that use sustainably sourced materials like recycled plastic, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) organic cotton, and upcycled rubber. The GOTS certification ensures the fabric is truly organic and sourced from green supply chains.
All the brands on this list utilize various strategies to ensure their materials are sourced sustainably and responsibly, be it by using recycled materials, low impact dyes, and organic fabrics.
There are also several brands that give back to the earth with every purchase by removing plastic from waterways, planting trees, or helping fund renewable energy projects.
when looking for high quality backpacks, make sure they’re built to last:
Truth is, backpacks are hard to recycle due to their many parts. This means most end up in the trash.
When an item doesn’t need to be replaced, it means less will go to waste and doesn’t support mass consumerism. A lot more goes into making a backpack than just materials alone – there’s all the water, chemicals and transportation emissions to think on.
The textiles needed to make backpacks have a heavy water footprint. The fashion industry (which includes backpacks) is the second most water-intensive industry in the world, consuming around 79 billion cubic metres of water per year. Fabric dyeing is responsible for 17 to 20% of global water pollution.
When we toss backpacks in the trash, we are also wasting the resources it took to make them. For this reason, it’s essential to find a durable backpack that will last for several years, rather than just one.
All the backpacks on this list are from high quality brands that put a lot of time into the design and durability of their products. They have several compartments and pockets that will prove quite useful for carrying laptops, pens, books and more. Some even have high tech compatibilities, like solar chargers.
These backpacks are designed to last several years, so think of them as investments.
when looking for eco friendly backpacks, prioritize ethical production:
How a backpack is made, and by who, matters. Who made it? Did they earn a living wage? How are they treated on the job? These are all questions we should ask for every item we buy.
Humane treatment of workers and fair living wages are essentials, not negotiables. It’s unfortunate this has to be considered when buying a backpack, but you’d be shocked at how many brands just want cheap labor to meet demands.
Fast fashion brands are most known for their exploitation of workers. For more info check out the blog post What is Fast Fashion, Anyways?
Make sure you’re supporting brands that offer fair wages and safe working conditions, always. Look for brands that disclose their factory information, work with artisans who are preserving fragile cultural heritages, and are fair trade certified.
All the brands on this list are transparent about their practices, pay their workers fairly, and offer employees a safe work environment. Some of these brands even feature age-old techniques, traditions or art forms that are in decline or in danger of being lost forever.
12 sustainable and eco friendly backpacks
Ready to grab an eco friendly backpack for yourself? Whatever you’re in need of – there’s bound to be something for you on this list.
I’ve gone ahead and highlighted some of my favorite features of each brand, but it isn’t an exhaustive list so be sure to check out their websites for more information.
Here are 12 eco friendly backpacks you can trust to last you on errands, in school, and on hiking trips.
- Made from recycled pet fabric and upcycled rubber
- Each backpack saves several rubber innertubes from entering the landfill
- Made in the USA
- Charitable, 1% For The Planet
/ SHOP RECOVER /
2. alchemy goods
- Made from reclaimed bicycle inner tubes
- 72% of this bag is made from recycled materials
- Handmade in the USA
- Made from 100% recycled materials
- Utilizes Repreve fabric
- Safe and fair labor
- Sustainable manufacturing
- Plants a tree with every purchase
/ SHOP TENREE /
4. terra thread
- Handmade from organic GOTS certified cotton
- Fair trade certified
- Each purchase gives back to Feeding America
- Made without GMOs, toxic dyes or chemicals
- B Corporation
- GOTS certified organic cotton and recycled content
- Padded with recycled polyester felt made from plastic water bottles
- Made without GMOs, BPA, toxic dyes or chemicals
- Safe and fair labor
/ SHOP FLUF /
6. united by blue
- Made from recycled pet fabric and recycled nylon
- For every product purchased, 1 pound of trash is removed from waterways
- B Corporation
/ UNITED BY BLUE /
- Recycled materials
- Fair trade options
- Solution dyeing
- Factory transparency
/ SHOP PATAGONIA /
8. day owl
- First Mile recycled canva
- 100% circular – no landfills
- Lining and trim made from 100% recycled post-consumer plastic bottles
- Algae based foam
/ SHOP DAY OWL /
- Organic, renewable and recycled materials
- Fair labor association
- Climate compensation through supporting renewable energy projects
- Sustainable production practices
- Made from upcycled ocean plastic
- For every purchase, 229 plastic bottles are removed from the ocean
- Includes Solarbank, a charger with solar power
/ SHOP SOLGAARD /
- Made of natural cork
- PETA certified vegan
- Fair trade
- Features age-old techniques, traditions or art forms
- Handcrafted in Aveiro, Portugal
/ SHOP TIRADIA /
12. purse and clutch
- Hand processed, chemical free, vegetable treated Charcoal Black Leather
- Artisans are paid a living wage for their region & work in a positive environment
- Preserve fragile cultural heritage art forms and techniques
- Handcrafted in Chiapas, Mexico
Which of these ethically made backpacks would you try?