In the next couple of weeks, our children will be heading back to another year of school. Think of the countless binders, pencil cases, crayons, pencils, and other paraphernalia we buy. But what I dread more than buying school supplies, is the end of the year when I have to dispose of all those beat up beyond recognition binders, folders, tabs, and other non-recyclable school supplies. What the heck do you do with the short pencil stubs?
I have four kids who have multiple teachers . Each year I purchase at least 20 binders. As each child gets older, he need one binder per subject as required by his teacher. Gone are the days of one binder with multiple subject tabs. This teacher wants a 3 inch binder, that one wants a 1 1/2 binder, and perhaps another teacher wants a folder and a binder.
At the end of the year I go through a cathartic process. I am so relieved that school is over for the year. No more agendas to sign, no more projects, studying for tests, and thank goodness, no more paper. The paper that comes home alone will smother you. So, I go through each child’s papers and we recycle everything we don’t need and keep the artwork or writing samples we like, so they can see them again when they get older.
Then I tear apart agendas and recycle the paper. Does anyone have an idea how to reuse the spiral part? I also rip out pages that were written on out of spiral and composition notebooks so the balance can be reused for next year. At the end of the process, we store everything that can be used again and the rest that can’t be recycled goes on the kitchen counter.
So, what is left on the counter? You got it. 20 or so binders bound for the trash since they have been beaten up from falling on the floor, being taken in and out of jammed backpacks, and of course, the ones slightly ripped from being pulled at in class when one of my children was bored. Half the time, I can’t even get through a full year of school without replacing a binder or two.
Over the last couple of years, I haven’t been able to just throw the binders away. Instead, I tear them apart, and recycle what I can. This year was different since I bought my older sons the TerraCycle cardboard binders. Believe it or not, 90% of the binders made it through the school year. They were a breeze to tear apart since they were cardboard. I needed help to rip the steel three ring part off the binder since they installed very tightly.
The other plastic binders were more of a problem. I bought recycled plastic content binders (see above) since the store was out of the TerraCycle cardboard binders. I figured it was better to buy them than new, virgin plastic binders. Previously, I have good luck with using some heavy duty plastic binders for more than one year. There is no rhyme or reason why. I was hoping this would be the case with the recycled content binders. Unfortunately, the recycled binders bit the dust at the end of the school year too.
The recycled binders were so hard to tear apart. They seemed to have more adhesive as well as having added plastic reinforcements inside the cover.
As you can see from the picture above, there the parts of the binders that can be recycled is in one pile and the trash is in the other pile. Where did it all go? The cardboard went into the recycling can and the steel 3 rings still sits in my pile to go to the county recycling with my fluorescent light bulbs. I probably should have called to see if I can just throw it in the aluminum can recycling. It broke my heart to throw away the floppy plastic part which was no longer had its cardboard inside. Unfortunately, I can only recycle #1 and #2 plastic bottles.
During the summer, my sadness turned to anger, and decided to invoke “the power of one” doctrine that I heard at the Jumpstart Conference when I interviewed the sustainable urban panel. One of the panelist commented that all you need is the power of one to change the world. Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish invoke that doctrine when she scored a major victory with Clorax to take back the Brita Filters. It is more constructive to b*tch about something, if you have solutions to go along with your complaints.
In the previous school years, I have bought plastic Avery Dennison binders. They are a big company and I thought they should have a take back program for their binders, or create eco-friendly affordable recyclable binders. By the way, I happened to love this Company. I use their labels, their fee design software, and many of the other products. They just made my life easier over the years, but I haven’t stop to think what I was using was environmentally friendly.
When I went on their website to find the name of their sustainable VP, I was taken back on how many sustainable concepts they have employed. So, I thought this idea would be easy to propose.
First, I started with customer service who directed me to the “binder” product manager. He called me back and did not seem to have any real solutions to my requests. He did direct me to their website to see their cardboard binders which has a manufacturer’s listed price starting at $9.38 for the 1 inch binders to $14.99 for the 3 inch binder. (Note, this binder has a dark outer shell versus the TerraCycle’s cover which is just plain cardboard. It is also less expensive at Staples.) I gasped when he told me the price, and said, “wow that is expensive. I did not pay that much for my TerraCycle binders.” What was he going to say except they source high quality materials.
Then I was directed to their public affairs VP who was wonderful. She patiently listened to my request. I thought this power of one idea was sweet. All you have to do is take initiative. Someone pinch me. I don’t remember if she told me she would connect me to the right people or she would look into it. All I know is that it ended positively. I was out of the gate and running.
Fast forward, three weeks later. Despite two emails and a call which told me she is on vacation until next week, I am still where I was at the end of the school year. Tearing up binders was still in my future. I am waiting for her to return and will continue my quest.
Let’s not forget about all the other school supplies. What about all the stubby pencils at the end of the year?
Or the used up markers?
Or the pens that crack?
Shouldn’t these companies take them back to reuse them in some way? Better yet, shouldn’t they make products that can be recycled? In the meantime, here are some suggestions:
- If you can, buy items on the PVC free school supplies list,
- Buy supplies that you can recycle such as cardboard notebooks (See Office Max or shoponlygreen.com. In addition to the TerraCycle binder, Office Max also sells a Kraft paper binder. I have not seen it yet.)
- In the alternative, buy something that will last so that you can get some “wear” from them for a couple of year. My kids are still using their plastic folders. Although, I was not a fan, I needed something that would hold up. I think we are going on our fourth year with these folders.
- Look what is your cabinets to be thrifty and green before you buy new.
What ideas do you have to make the end of the year’s clean-up less environmentally stressful? Have any suggestions on how to recycle pencils, markers, etc?
This post is part of the Green Mom Carnival on this month’s topic of back to school hosted by Lynn of Organicmania. Check out all the other Green Moms and Mothers of the Earth’s posts to hear what they have to say!