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Beth’s Big Back to School Binder Debate

Posted By Beth Terry On July 31, 2009 @ 10:43 am In Art Craft Office,Contests and Giveaways | 53 Comments

You wouldn’t think that 3-ring binders would be the topic of intense debate within the green blogging community, but it turns out they have become a symbol of a much bigger discussion: the pros and cons of buying new “green” products vs. re-using older products that might not be as green. It’s a debate I constantly have with myself, and generally I end up on the side promoting less consumption, less purchasing of new stuff, less less less. Except when I think the re-used option could be harmful to health (plastic food containers, for example) and then I quickly jump on the new bandwagon.

Anyway, last week, blogger Siel Ju of Green LA Girl posted a short article about Sustainable Group’s [Now called Guided Products] Green Back to School Kit. The kit includes binders, notebooks, and other supplies made from plastic-free, recycled materials.

Blog Lighter Footstep takes issue with these products. In his article, “5 Ways to Green Back-to-School (And It’s Not this “Eco” Supply Kit) [1]” blogger Chris Baskind criticizes Guided Product’s offerings in favor of used school supplies. He then goes on to list 5 really great ways to lower your “back to school” impact.

Green LA Girl responds to Lighter Footstep with her much longer, comprehensive analysis of the new vs. used binder debate, advocating support for green businesses and for the Rebinder products in particular. In her article, “When ‘Green’ Bloggers Help Greenwash,” Siel suggests that Lighter Footstep is actually helping non-eco companies greenwash their products by refusing to support new products from companies that are truly green.

Well, here I am in the middle seeing both sides of the equation. Buy used supplies. GOOD! Buy biodegradable, recycled supplies. GOOD! Except for one thing. In this particular binder example, many used binders are covered with PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride.) BAD. Kids chew stuff. PVC in child’s mouth. BAD. (See the bottom of this post for info on a free downloadable guide to PVC in school products.) And also, if we don’t support greener products, all we’ll have is more of the toxic crap, right? But greener products might be more expensive and out of the reach of some families. BAD. Oh, it’s all so complicated.

So, in the interest of fairness and healthy debate, I’m going to present you with 3 binder options I’ve come across in the last few months.

I want to hear your opinions, pros and cons, about each of the 3 choices. Please rank your choices 1 – 3 with 1 being the choice you like the best.

CHOICE A: Guided Products’s [2] ReBinder Back to School set

* Comes packaged plastic-free with paper tape.

* Kit includes 1 ReBinder 3-ring binder, 1 binder pocket, 8 binder divider tabs, 2 types of CD sleeves, 1 8×10 lined notebook, 1 5×8 unlined notebook, 1 presentation folder, 1 PLA badge holder, and 2 bio-based pens made from FCS wood or organic cotton cellulose & non-GMO grapeseed oil.

Eco Features:

1) Plastic-free
2) All paper/cardboard materials are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
3) Binders, pockets, & covers contain 100% recycled material with 85% post-consumer content.
4) Notebook paper contains 100% post-consumer fibers.
5) Binders are assembled by disabled workers in the AbilityOne Program [3].
6) My favorite feature… the metal rings can be easily unscrewed and reused. Guided Products sells replacement covers so the rings never have to be replaced.

Read more about Guided Products’s binders or place orders via their web site [2].

Stop and Think:

1) More expensive than reused binders.
2) Uses more resources and energy than reused binder.

10/13/09 Disclosure: As of today, I have become a Guided Products affiliate, which means that I receive a small percentage of sales of Guided Products items purchased through this web site.

CHOICE B: Naked Binder [4] Plain & Project Binders

Shipped with zero plastic packaging.

Includes 2 Project Binders with spine wrap made from 100% cotton & water-based glue and 1 Naked Binder.

Eco Features:

1) Plastic-free
2) Board contains 100% recycled content with a minimum of 97% post-consumer fibers.
3) Materials sourced and manufactured in the U.S. Recycled paper content comes from Connecticut. The board is manufactured in Chicago and the binders are assembled in Des Moines, IA.

Stop and think:

1) Board content is not Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
2) Cotton spine wrap is not certified organic.
3) Metal rings are not detachable.
4) More expensive than finding a used binder.

Read more about Naked Binders and place order here [4].

CHOICE C: Beth’s Used Plastic Binders

Seriously, I’ve been taking your advice and cleaning up my clutter [5]. I’ll be taking hauling big bags of stuff that hasn’t been used in over a year to Goodwill or to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse [6] where teachers and artists come to stock up on used supplies.

Here are 7 plastic (some covered in PVC) binders that will be leaving my house unless any of you want them. As you can see, they are not pristine but definitely usable.

Eco Features:

1) Less impact to reuse than to buy new.

Stop and Think:

1) Some covered in PVC. May not be a problem if used by an adult who doesn’t put it in his/her mouth.
2) Does not support sustainable businesses.


Want to know more about PVC in school supplies? The Center for Health, Environment, & Justice [7] has created a new downloadable Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies, which will be released to the public on Tuesday, August 4.

The guide is fantastic and covers everything from binders and notebooks to clothes, electronics, lunch boxes, and a host of other products. It includes a comprehensive guide to suppliers as well as general rules to keep in mind. Check the site on August 4 to download the guide.

So, what do you think? Those are the choices I have to offer. Which would you choose?

This post is part of my contribution to August’s Green Moms’ Back to School Carnival [8] hosted by Organicmania.

Article printed from My Plastic-free Life: http://myplasticfreelife.com

URL to article: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2009/07/beths-big-back-to-school-binder-debate/

URLs in this post:

[1] 5 Ways to Green Back-to-School (And It’s Not this “Eco” Supply Kit): http://lighterfootstep.com/2009/07/5-ways-to-green-back-to-school-and-its-not-this-eco-supply-kit/

[2] Guided Products’s: http://shrsl.com/?~3wss

[3] AbilityOne Program: http://abilityone.org/index.html

[4] Naked Binder: http://www.nakedbinder.com

[5] cleaning up my clutter: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2009/07/help-im-buried-under-paper-and-i-cant/

[6] East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse: http://www.east-bay-depot.org

[7] Center for Health, Environment, & Justice: http://chej.org/campaigns/pvc/

[8] Green Moms’ Back to School Carnival: http://organicmania.com/2009/08/11/green-schools-green-moms-tell-it-like-it-is/

[9] Image: https://plus.google.com/+BethTerry

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