Recycling FAQ: Binders

May 01 2018

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As we head into our busiest season we thought we would highlight something that we get a lot of: Binders. We got TONS of them. Many are perfectly reusable and go out on our resource center’s shelves for visitors to take. However, many cannot be reused so we do the next best thing by recycling them.

Binder Recycling 101

Binders that are slated to be recycled are those that are visibly worn, broken, or have large logos or branding, writing or ink marks on them. Clearly, we  can’t just toss them into the recycling so, how does it work? Through a process called de-manufacturing. Essentially, we take apart the binders so that each material is separate and can be recycled. We gratefully utilize volunteers to break down our binders (and we’re always looking for more to help out!).

Do you have some binders that you want to recycle? See how the process is done below:

  1. Remove any papers, dividers etc in the binder. Recycle what you can (basically, any paper, no plastic).
  2. Remove the metal rings. We do this with a hammer and elbow grease: Place the binder, open, on the floor. Hold it in place with your feet (closer to the center is better). Place the claw end of the hammer under the metal and around the first fastener and pull straight up. Rotate and repeat on the other end of the rings and voila! Metal rings removed.
  3. Remove vinyl cover: Using a box cutter, slice a big “x” in each panel of the binder (front, back, and spine). Remove the paper chipboard.

That’s it! Here at SCARCE, we stack the metal rings in boxes until we make a run to a scrap metal recycling facility. The cardboard can be recycled in a standard recycling program. Unfortunately, we have not found anyone to recycle the vinyl covers so those are landfilled. However, by de-manufacturing the binders, we’ve recovered the recyclable chipboard and metal and drastically reduced the volume of waste.

Other Options for Donating or Recycling Binders

One important take-away here is that, when multiplied by the hundreds of binders we get, this is a time intensive process for our little non-profit. Further, we get far more usable binders than we can possibly fit on our shelves or store in our warehouse. So, next time you have binders, consider these other options:

  • Donate usable binders to a resale shop such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or similar to re-sell in their home/office section.
  • Donate direct: Try finding a local school, shelter, or other non-profit that could use them.
  • Recycle non-working/marked up binders through Terracycle at Office Depot or OfficeMax store near you. (Limit 6 binders per customer). You even get a coupon for a new binder.
  • DIY recycle them using our process outlined above. You are welcome to bring the metal rings to SCARCE to be recycled with scrap metal.


Reduce & Reuse

Of course, the best course of action is to use (and reuse) a binder until it is no longer usable. Extend the life of your binder with the following ideas:

  • Remove permanent marker with rubbing alcohol to re-label your binder as needed
  • Use matching duct tape or get wild with a fun color or pattern to hold the spine together when it starts to split
  • If your rings become uneven or have a gap, check out a YouTube tutorial to get them back in working order


Think Before You Buy

To reduce the amount of waste consider purchasing chipboard binders without a vinyl cover such as a Naked Binder or other similar products. Most office supply companies have a recycled, vinyl-free option to choose. Once you’ve used a vinyl-free binder to it’s fullest extent, you can easily break it apart and recycle it.

And, if you are a teacher or non-profit employee in the Chicago area – please don’t ever buy a binder again! Come to SCARCE and get all the like-new binders you need.


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