Which Brand Makes the Best Sustainable Backpack for Back to School?

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Looking for ethical, vegan, sustainable or recycled backpacks? Check out our top picks.

Whether you're getting ready for back-to-school season, going on a hike or just need a to-go bag for your commute to the office, everyone can benefit from buying one of the best sustainable backpacks.

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Most backpacks aren't recyclable due to the many different parts and textiles used (think: metal zippers, a mix of cotton, canvas, nylon, PVC, polyester, polypropylene, etc.). But many Americans buy backpacks yearly—we collectively bought 174 million in 2015, The New York Times reported—and sadly, most of them end up in landfills.

If you're in the market for a new backpack, it's best to go with one of the best sustainable backpacks. After all, sustainable backpacks are made ethically, often prioritize recycled over virgin materials and are durable enough to last a long time.

To find the best sustainable backpacks, Newsweek took a deep dive into three main categories: the best overall sustainable backpack, the best sustainable backpack made from recycled materials and the best sustainable backpack that's vegan. Keep reading for top knapsack picks!

The Best Sustainable Backpack

Terra Thread Everyday Organic Cotton Backpack

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Terra Thread is a B Corp that's Fair Trade Certified, and its Everyday Organic Cotton Backpack is made without GMOs, toxic dyes or chemicals. EARTH HERO

For our overall best sustainable backpacks pick, it's hands-down the Everyday Organic Cotton Backpack from Terra Thread. Made with organic GOTS certified cotton and Fair Trade Certified, this backpack—available in 14 different colors, including the above-pictured lavender—is devoid of genetically modified organisms, toxic dyes and chemicals. It's spacious enough to hold a 13- to15-inch laptop (which even gets its own compartment), features two water bottle side pockets, a hanging inside pocket and a large front pocket with a zipper.

Why did it make our top pick? Many sustainable backpacks are made from recycled materials; Terra Thread is the leading backpack company for sustainable backpacks made from 100 percent organic cotton. Plus, they take advantage of low-impact dyes (that are generally toxin-free), and the company is also carbon neutral.

A certified B Corporation, Terra Thread also contributes meals to U.S. children, families and seniors in need through Feeding America. Just one backpack purchase equals 20 meals!

Buy at Earth Hero for $69.95.

The Best Recycled Backpack

Tentree Mobius 35L Backpack

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Made from 100 percent recycled materials, Tentree also plants a tree for every purchase of the Mobius 35L Backpack. TENTREE

Made of 100 percent Repreve Polyester, the Tentree Mobius 35L Backpack is known for its handy functionality. After all, it's a 4-in-1 knapsack. Tentree sustainability sources the recycled materials necessary for creating the Mobius 35L—recycled fibers and materials like plastic bottles, textile waste, recycled clothing and fishing nets, to name a few.

The Tentree Mobius 35L Backpack is our standout pick for sustainable backpacks made with recycled materials because, unlike other "recycled" packs, this one is made from 100 percent recycled materials. Others call it at 75 or 80 percent, but Tentree fully prioritizes fabric made from recycled materials, and the company plants a tree with every purchase. With adjustable straps to your preferred fit, the Mobius 35L Backpack features dual access zippered or roll-top closure, has recycled trims made from post-industrial waste and exterior pockets. It even has a designated compartment for your 15-inch laptop.

Tentree also offers transparency about its safe and fair labor practices and sustainable manufacturing processes.

Buy at Tentree for $128.

The Best Vegan Backpack

Lisbon Cork Backpack

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Fair Trade certified and sustainably handcrafted in Portugal, the Lisbon Cork Backpack is constructed from PETA-certified vegan cork. MADE TRADE

Calling all vegans! What we don't like is how many sustainable backpack companies use leather. Sure, they're sourcing it ethically and sustainably and even vegetable-tanning it to get the preferred color, but at the end of the day, it's still leather. The Lisbon Cork Backpack is by far a better option!

A women-owned company, Tiradia Cork Fair Trade, handcrafts the Lisbon Cork Backpack from natural cork that's PETA-certified vegan. Put together responsibly in Aveiro, Portugal, the style of the backpack itself makes structural and modern design cool again. It's hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, waterproof, lightweight, biodegradable, recyclable and durable enough to last a lifetime. Plus, it's super easy to take care of—just wipe it clean with a damp cloth and air dry!

The Lisbon Cork Backpack also features a zipped exterior pocket, an interior open pocket for organizing your items and an interior zipped pocket.

Buy at Made Trade for $125.

Newsweek's Green Awards highlight companies and products that use sustainable and ethical business practices and deliver exceptional quality, service and value. The evaluation focuses on three key areas; measurable sustainability practices as certified by trusted organizations, product or service quality and overall value. Learn more.

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