The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 31, 2009

Beth’s Big Back to School Binder Debate

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)” 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 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.
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.

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 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.

CHOICE C: Beth’s Used Plastic Binders

Seriously, I’ve been taking your advice and cleaning up my clutter. 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 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 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?

You might also enjoy...


Get 15% off at Guided!

I love Guided Products recycled binders & notebooks. Read my review.

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4 years ago

I’d like to ask a question, if I may?
At the moment I use alot of plastic sleeve thingys (not sure of their correct name.) that hold sheets of A4 paper, with me? Where can I get a plastic free alternative, please? I have been looking and keep getting your website. Thought you might know.

Joomi Lee
7 years ago

All of these responses indicate the adage, “Different strokes for different folks.”

I have bought one binder from Goodwill before but only because it was half off and then it ended up costing me as much as a brand new binder would have at the local Dollar Tree store. Sometimes Goodwill is more expensive than a store like Walmart or one of the discount department stores and/or dollar stores.

I have no children so have no worries about someone chewing and choking on the plastic covers. I also have no pets.

I am known to reuse old empty binders that are just sitting around my dad’s home office because he isn’t very organized with his documents, a habit I picked up both from him and my mom.

I also have a personal income of around $14,000 so obviously finances have a big factor on my purchase decisions.

11 years ago

I make ACEO/ATC collector’s binders and use the Wilson Jones ones for the ones with my art work on them as they are Kraft paper with a finished edge.. I use the Rebinder ones on the DIY ones I sell. I wrap the DIY ones in muslin and use papers on the leaves to hide the edges. This creates a cloth surface for the customer to decorate. They can stamp, collage, whatever to make it their own. As I sell to both artists and art collectors, I sell an equal number of both. The binders are fantastic and sturdy! You can let your creativity run wild when decorating them! What’s not to love?

Beth Terry
11 years ago
Reply to  CyndeeDuby

Sounds like a great idea, Cyndee. Do you have a link to your store so we can see what you’re describing?

11 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

Wow, thanks for asking, Beth! Here is the link to my DIY album:

Here are some of the ones I’ve made (second, third, and fourth photos) in the listing:

etsy is an artists website that has hand made, vintage, and supplies for artists

Beth Terry
11 years ago
Reply to  CyndeeDuby

Your customized ones are beautiful. You should send the pix to Rebinder to show them!I sure wish I could find a plastic-free alternative to the photo pages.

11 years ago
Reply to  CyndeeDuby

Thanks tons! I had fun with them. I have two that I just finished and am ready to mail out, both customs. One has a fairy on it and fairy quotes and the other has bunnies and bunny quotes :-)

I don’t know of any plastic substitute that is acid free and archival safe for this type of thing. I’ve been looking, believe me. And unless we went to glass which is prohibitive for oh so many reasons, we’re kinda stuck until technology catches up with ALL of our green needs :-)

ken james
12 years ago

I just wanted to let you know that since your post, Naked Binder has been using FSC certified board for all the binders, folders and tab dividers.

While we do advocate reuse first, if you have vinyl binders, you may find that the useful life of that binder is not that long (even with the standard duct tape fix). To insure our products would last we have had the Naked Binders tested to 250,000 flexes without fail. That is 34 years if you use it 20 times a day. It may cost more upfront than vinyl, but you won’t be replacing this binder for a long long time.

Thanks for all your work on going plastic free!

document binders
13 years ago

I would go for choice No 1 as it is more environment friendly than other 2 choices,provided we utilize our trees and forest properly and sensibly.The other reason is my nephew tried to chew the re-usable plastic folder he almost choked himself.We called and ambulance and they provided him required treatment ,but that was horrible experience for me..So i would go for No 1 in anyhow.

14 years ago

Great debate Beth,

Interesting subject for me because I worked marketing binders and other school supplies for Avery-Dennison for a number of years.

One of the issues that manufacturers face is the fact that binders are a commodity product. The margins are terrible, many times binders are almost a loss leader.

This leaves the traditional (read big) manufacturers in a bit of a quandary. A typical school binder sells for a few bucks. An Eco-binder sells for at least twice as much (often more). And why is there this margin pressure? It comes down to large retailers who also use the binders as loss leaders.

I’m for encouraging both retailers and manufacturers to change marketing strategies to green the entire supply of binders. Wal-Mart could pay a big role in this and they have the vehicle with their sustainability campaign. (I won’t go into details, but there are ways to implement this).

OK- that wasn’t one of your choices – I don’t really need to make a choice because I have many, many old binders from my years working in corporate America and a child who is past the chewing stage :-)

14 years ago

Binders seem to always be readily available at thrift shops and yard sales, and they're very affordable. If you don't like the PVC or the color, couldn't you decoupage the binder? Might be fun to get pictures from old magazines and adhere with non-toxic glue.

14 years ago

I'd choose Option D- a sustainable school pack from It has a rebinder plus demonstrably sustainable set of supplies including a spiral notebook, filler paper, pen, #2 and color pencils, a highlighter and ruler. All fun, colorful and Earth-friendly

14 years ago

I would choose option C. It doesn't make sense to me to buy new when I already have the item at home. Also I feel both binder options A and B are ugly.

mary Hunt
14 years ago

You brought back memories of making our own supply box via an old cigar box with an inch wide hole in one end to stick in your ruler – that's the only way it would fit.

Making your own folders sure raises the bar.

14 years ago

How about a 4th option…
Sew a cloth cover out of some cool fabric your child loves. Slip it off and throw it it the wash when it gets dirty. You could even use a favorite old clothing item. Add a pocket on the spine for pen/pencils, etc. You can make it a totally custom binder cover.
"Add a dangling chew toy for those who haven't grown up yet"!

Cousin Yellowstone
14 years ago

I face a similar dilemma when it comes to pens. I find countless pens while out walking, and am able to avoid buying new pens by using the pens I find buried in the mud and grass. However, this means not giving my economic support to the manufacturers of refillable pens. I intend to continue using other people's discarded pens and binders, but I respect the efforts of people who purchase eco-friendly school/office supplies.

Please don't enter me in your drawing. I rescued many discarded binders from the trash at my previous workplace, and even after giving away several boxes of them on Freecycle, I still have many left.

Lynn Blevins
14 years ago

A is my choice for the long term. The components of this product can continue to have a life even after the product has finished it original job (cardboard can be recycled or composted and metal spine/rings can be used over and over again or recycled as scrap metal if they become damaged). This ability to easily remove the cardboard (considered a biologic nutrient in cradle to cradle design) from the metal component (non-biologic nutrient) is key to keeping binders out of landfills since each piece can be composted and/or recycled separately from the other. If they remain bound, the item can be reused but will likely ultimately end up landfilled. This is definitely the case for C, and likely B.

In the short term, C is an ok choice but not for sensitive populations.

Supporting A sends a message that we'd like a change in the way our goods are produced and disposed.

14 years ago

For two years I have had a "no-buy back-to-school" policy. Whenever my kids receive a box of crayons or colored pencils for a gift, I put them in a box in the basement marked "school supplies" (we already have more than enough of these things on our art table). When (and if) I get a supply list from school, I rummage in the box to find what we need, sharpen and send already-used pencils and re-use the same pencil box my son has had since kindergarten. I do feel a moment of guilt when all the kids line up in their sparkling new shoes and fashionable clothes, but at 8, my oldest doesn't seem to notice or care. So, in my own home, I would definitely go with option C–re-used binders. Even though they are plastic, we have a bunch of them and may as well use them till they die (we don't chew on them, much). But if I didn't already have reusable binders (and I don't want to import any more into my home), I would be mighty tempted by A, because it has so much other swag (althouh I'm trying to learn to say no to free stuff) and B (because of the pretty colors). Right now my kids don't require binders for school, so this debate can stay in the hypothetical for me, but I would sorely love to buy some eco markers and pencils and beeswax crayons from stubby pencil studios–too bad I have that whole box full of them downstairs!

Now, what can you recommend for "green" tape and glue stick (is there such thing as plastic-free?)

Tammy B
14 years ago

i'm going with a, b, then c. i try to keep plastic away from the kidlets as much as possible, but never even thought about binders! they wouldn't chew on them but what about leaching from heat, etc? i think they would like either a or b because they could decorate them as they want, not be slaves to what is offered for their demographic (a bonus for mom). i do like the way a has the removable mechanism.. i think we'll donate the used binders we have. thanks for the thought provoking subject!

14 years ago

I like A, B, and C in that order. I also think that giving the binder to Goodwill would not be so bad because whoever buys them used would probably just have bought a plastic binder brand new and by using your new binder you can influence the people around you to be aware of environmentally friendly options.

I am about to start grad school and so I'm sure I could find good use for all the items in the giveaway. Im gonna email you my info also so its private.


14 years ago

Do they still make those binders that have a denim-like fabric glued onto a cardboard cover? I loved using those in school. I got to draw all over them and customize the graphics with markers. The inside had my class schedule printed on paper.

Aren't those a good choice for kids in school? Durable and non-toxic!

14 years ago

Option A:
My first hesitation arises because of the flimsiness of the materials. Yes, I abhor plastic. However, I'm a high school senior, and my binders get put to the test. In fact, the typical plastic binders (like those in Option C) that I used in middle school used to last only a few months. I now shell out for the $30 binders (yes, $30 each) that, while plastic, have not yet broken on me, and I've used them for years. While I love that these binders and folders don't have plastic in them, I can see myself having to buy a new set every month. What with the emissions from shipping and the unsustainability of mining metals (even if you can reuse the rings, rings will break), I'm not sure if five plastic-free binders are really better than one plastic binder I'll use for years. Also, to echo those before me, there's a ton of stuff I don't need in here. Honestly, nobody in my generation uses CD's anymore – let alone CD cases. Flash drives are way less wasteful.

Option B:
I like these. What with the wrapping and the multi-jointedness of the spine, they seem a lot more durable than Option A. Also, since they come in bigger sizes, they'll stand up to A.P. classes and the enormous amount of paper associated with them. As I stated before, removable and reusable rings aren't that useful, as rings are often the most vulnerable part of a binder. Plus, the non-organic cotton doesn't bother me too much because, even though I love to buy organic when I can, I'm not so certain as to the environmental advantages thereof as to make it a deal-breaker for me when the option isn't available.

Option C:
Probably the best option, if you set aside feasibility. For one, I live the Midwest, in a small, conservative town. Trying to find people who keep their binders in good shape and don't just throw them away would be nearly impossible. However, your argument that PVC is something to be avoided around children is not, in my opinion, particularly significant. Small children, at least those small enough to chew on binders, rarely use binders in an unsupervised setting. In first grade, for example, the first time I used a binder in school, my teacher watched us like a hawk, warning us repeatedly about the dangers of trapping our fingers in the rings. I'm sure eating the binders would have been similarly discouraged.

I'd like to add, as well, that, at the end of this last school year, I helped lead a service project to collect used school supplies, clean them, and donate them to battered women's shelters and children's shelters in the area. It was an outstanding success. We got well in excess of two hundred binders, not to mention lots of miscellaneous school supplies, like half-used notebooks, clean paper, pens, pencils, and all those supplies that teachers require but never use, like protractors, compasses, and rulers. It was great to divert such a huge amount of landfill waste, and the shelters were ecstatic with our donation.

Jennifer Taggar, TheSmartMama
14 years ago

Beth – Please don't enter me in the giveaway. I vote for re-using what you got as long as you can. So I guess I vote for C. But, in terms of PVC, it can have phthalates, which are mobilized primarily by mouthing although they can also offgas, and also lead or cadmium. If the PVC is stabilized with lead, the lead is available for pickup at the surface – and can then be transferred by the hand to the mouth. In other words, lead can be ingested from a PVC lead stabilized binder without mouthing. Lead doesn't like being in the plastic matrix, so it migrates to the surface, particularly when exposed to heat and/or friction. Older PVC will have higher concentrations of lead. Having tested lots of binders now with my XRF, there is a substantial percentage that do have lead, but not all.

14 years ago

The Sustainable Group also offers custom printing, so they don't have to be plain & "ugly"

14 years ago

Don't include me in the giveaway. I'm still chortling about the adult who does not chew on binders. Maybe you should include also who does not have pets who chew on plastic?
We re-use binders for a variety of work organizing purposes, but ocassionally need to buy new pretty ones to submit to the court for trials. We never see those again, and I doubt they get re-used. Something to think about – in that context would eco-options make sense?

14 years ago

I choose A, B, and C — in that order.

I understand the arguments for trying not to purchase new products, but I love the ability to use my spending dollars to support companies with the kind of business practices I like.

I really like Sustainable Group's business model: provide you with metal binder hardware that you only need to buy once and then let you replace the cover as needed with a product made from 100% recycled fibers.

Naked Binders are also making an excellent effort to be sustainable and healthy: they avoid using toxins in manufacturing, they are made in the USA, their board is 100% recycled. They don't score as high because they don't have the model of replacing just the paper board when needed. They are much more attractive though.

Getting used binders has a lot of advantages. No resources are used to make or transport a new product. But that means businesses with good ideas about sustainable products aren't being supported. I'd prefer to actually spend money in order to increase the market for recycled paper fibers. And if you use traditional plastic binders, you miss the opportunity to teach people with your actions. Unless you make a point of verbally mentioning that you're reusing binders to everyone you encounter in your classes, you aren't demonstrating the sustainable alternatives available to fill your backpack.

– Rachel

fakeplasticfish "at"

14 years ago


I like the cotton binders, I think that would be great too if they had removeable rings like you said and the cover could be replaced. I too use and reuse and (gasp) tape up and reuse the PVC binders.

I have two kids and they stop chewing on things about 18mos – so for a back to school set, you won't need to worry about that.

I really like the idea of the first set – I must admit – I think a little leaf print in soy based ink or something like that would really make the deal for me!

All good stuff to know though, sometimes I don't think that I have alternatives to things but then you show me that I do! Thanks!!!

14 years ago

I vote for C first, then A. Since I'm subscribing to the "Buy Nothing in August" Challenge I must vote for C. School supplies are allowed to be purchased, but as I have binders from last year, I will not even buy the ones from A this year. Perhaps next year, or if I win….

Melanie Turner
14 years ago

I'm coming at this one from a different angle. I work for a sustainable print company that has been selling Sustainable Group's products for some time. Unfortunately, I work from home (1500 miles from the shop), so I haven't had the opportunity to handle Sustainable Group's binders firsthand. I have promoted their rebinders to a lot of our customers and on my own private blog as well because of the company's core philosophies and mission. And I wasn't aware that they work with the Ability One Program, so that just gives them another thumbs up in my book. I would love this kit to see more of their product offerings and see how I can help more of our customers green their office supplies.

Next I would choose B again for the ability to test these products. I've heard of Naked Binders before, but have very little knowledge of the company. From the picture, these look like they may be more "professional" looking than the Rebinders, so these may be a better fit for companies or individuals looking to have greener products without looking too "crunchy".

And I certainly don't need your old binders. I have plenty floating around here.

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

'C' Reuse is definitely first choice from the Zero Waste viewpoint.

'A' would be a future purchase when a new binder is required, the more sustainable the better.

14 years ago

I really regret having used the phrase "teaching moment" twice. Oh well.

14 years ago

I'm with you on the "don't buy things to save the planet" argument. BUT I have found one thing that should be added to the "pro" list of new eco-friendly school and office supplies: the opportunity to serve as a "teaching moment."

Many people will comment on any unusual office supply. That gives you a chance to say, "Thanks! It's made from X, which is great because of Y." A teaching moment, as they say.

I have a bright yellow Lamy Safari fountain pen which often draws comments. I always say "Thanks! One day I added up the number of disposable plastic pens I use/lose in a year at $5 a pop. And I realized that a $25 fountain pen with a $5 ink cartridge converter would save both plastic trash and money."

14 years ago

As someone that has finished high school and now is in college, I know quite a bit about binders. My mom HATED buying me binders every year but she had to, because the ones we had bought the year before were utterly destroyed. I don’t know if it’s just me or what but I KILL binders. If it can be broken, I break it. Not that I’m in college, I try to use folders more, but binders are useful for classes like Chemistry that have a lab too. Keeping this in mind I rated the choices:

1)A. After checking out their website a bit with a calculator, I figured out that each reusable 1.5 binder is $5.60, But the replacement covers were only $1.70 Now that’s not bad, considering the rings are reusable. I’ve bent many a binder ring out of shape, so I reasoned it out. The rings are designed to be reused; therefore they are actually designed to last, unlike all the other binders out there. AWESOME. As for them being ugly, I have quite of few of those horrible spandex book covers left form middle school (no clue how they survived but binders didn’t). Viola! Instantly pretty. Or even just going to town with markers and glitter. They aren’t ugly, they just require you to use some creativity, and I don’t see that as a bad thing for younger kids.
2)C. Reusing things is important. That’s what I attempt to do every year, so it only makes since to put it as 2.
3)I really dislike B, because it’s just an expensive binder. More than $4 bucks is just too much for a binder, so I definitely wouldn’t pay $7.50. Cost is a huge factor for me, because this is something that won’t last forever.

Just my 2 cents.

Sarah (willissj(at)vcu(dot)edu)

Amy K.
14 years ago

I don't have kids, or a need for office supplies myself. I have been going back-to-school crazy this year, buying supplies for a local organization that puts together backpacks for homeless and low income kids every summer. I have to admit – I'm going for most-bang-for-my-buck rather than environmental considerations. At Walmart this morning, the cheapest spiral notebooks (15 cents each) were FSC labeled, mixed source. Equivalent notebooks from recycled paper were $1 each. I bought 10 cheap ones.

I've spent $60-$70 on backpacks, crayons, markers, pencils, erasers, pens, rulers, and folders this year. I didn't put together full backpack "kits" (I didn't buy 3 ring binders, ironicly), but when combined with other donations this should be enough for 4 or 5 kids. For the same money, I could buy A plus filler paper and a backpack for one kid. With the state of the economy, to me "doing the most good" is helping the most people, and environmental considerations are a distant second.

With that context: C is right out, because they will only accept new donations. While I love the concept of A, with the replaceable covers, the families are on the move from hotel to shelter to (hopefully) apartment, so the replacement covers are more likely to get lost and I think you'd have to be in a very stable/organized environment to keep that system working. So my vote would go to B, the most "normal" option.

Please do not enter me in the giveaway, I am mainly commenting to give a voice to option D: new products with little to no environmental cred.

Anna (Green Talk)
14 years ago

Don't enter me in your contest. I opt for #C because I agree that it is wasteful for people to buy new if they don't need to. In addition as a mother of 4, I can tell you that kids don't chew on their binders but more on their pens.

Last year, we brought Terracycle's recycled notebooks from Office Max. I think it was Rebinder or one like it that was twice the price and would fall apart in a heart beat if you take in and out of a back pack. It was way too thin. If I recall, I think the Terracycle binder was $6 for a 2 inch binder. When you need 5 per year, it can get pretty pricey.

Terracycle's binders were heftier and some lasted the whole year. They are boring looking and would need to be decorated but my high schoolers were fine with it. Alot of comments like Mom is a treehugger.

I think the most important thing with school supplies is they need to last. I hate binders that fall apart in the middle of the year. The sustainable one I did see would have fallen apart the first month. Before, you buy anything take a look at how durable they are.

Every year, I go in the "school drawers" and try and use up everything I have before running to the store. Everything else I try to buy green if it looks like it can last and not ridiculously expensive.

BTW my tweens had the recycled content notebooks because Office Max did not have the Terracycle binders in the size I needed.

Lara S.
14 years ago

I think I'd go for "C", and spend the money in green paper to put IN the binder. I use binders for storing papers, but I find them uncomfortable to bring to college to me. I just don't like the rings.
Right now I use paper that's been printed on one side, for college. It soothes my conscience but it's not comfortable at all. I later have to glue the tips of the papers together so they don't get lost, sometimes I staple them but then I feel kind of guilty. It's a mess.
When I was in high school I used plain black cardboard binders and then covered it completely with pictures of bands or art. It would have been environmentally good if I hadn't covered it with plastic (otherwise the pictures got ruined quickly).

This week I've started uncluttering , inspired by you and by the enormous mess that was my bedroom. It's been great.

As with any other giveaway, don't count me in because of the shipping distance to Argentina. It wouldn't make sense.

14 years ago

I would definitely go with Choice C- It drives me nuts that my compnay goes through binders like water. They use to have a surplus system that would resell them, but I guess it isn't that important anymore. I would venture to guess that we throw away enough binders to supplie each kid in the Greater Seattle Area with a nice binder. And then my compnay gives its employees a "KLeen Kanteen" style water bottle that proclaims they are going green. Shheeeesh!

14 years ago

C – Period. I agree with the ugliness factor (I'm a middle school teacher, and I can tell you exactly what happens to the poor kid who shows up in cardboard on the first day, and it's not inspiration). I'd take your 7 binders, and cover them like this tutorial I wrote:

I'd use some of the really sweet fabric I have laying around anyway, or an old pair of blue jeans, with the pockets and belt loops and everything, and make it totally one of a kind. OOOH! You could even use a belt to make a carry strap… I see a back-to-school tutorial in my future!

14 years ago

Here's the thing. I'm all for supporting green businesses, but I think you should support green businesses for when you truly need something new. I bought several 100% recycled paper notebooks this year, because I didn't have any extra notebooks lying around. If you have old binders lying around, it seems wasteful to buy new.

Anyway, don't enter me in your give away because I'm not in need of binders right now, but if it were me I'd choose C, then B, then A. Mostly because A seems to include a lot of other junk that I don't really need. Although I'm not a fan of B's non organic cotton either. So what I'm saying is, I'd choose C, and try and restrain myself from chewing on the binder.

That said, if I had a child old enough to need binders … well, I think at that point I'd let them choose. Joyce makes a good point about the binders being ugly, and like, it sucks, but I know if you had shown up to school with used binders at my elementary school, you would have gotten made fun of and everyone would have thought you were poor. I just … I couldn't give my 9 year old kid used binders or weird hippie brown binders if I could afford new binders if I knew that giving them used or hippie binders would make them subject to a lot of teasing.

Natural Mamma
14 years ago

I prefer the binders in A and B equally since they support eco businesses. I understand the reuse principal and think it is valid for a lot of purchases. In this case I think A and B would make a bigger splash with the kids because they are new and different.

14 years ago

I would choose C, B, then A.
As a teacher, I use a lot of binders for many purposes. All of my binders are re-used! I pick them up at the thrift store or from my students at the end of the school year. As Farmer's Daughter commented, the students will throw them away! I have handed out binders to students who need them because I usually have many extras.

I like the eco-friendly options for binders though and once my plastic ones are no longer of any use and I can no longer get used ones, then I would consider option B. I was not crazy about option A simply because there were items in the package that I would never use. I would prefer to purchase my items separately or in bulk.

Since I teach older students, they are not as concerned with what the binder looks like and because I promote "reduce, reuse and recycle" in my classroom, they are keen to show me what they are doing in that department.
Beth commented about being a role model, and I do sometimes get questions about some of the plastic items I am using. My response to students is that I purchase them used or rescue them from the trash, so I am first reusing these items.

Since I am a frequent shopper at our local thrift store, many of the items in my classroom are reused items, and usually the students ask where I got something and another student already knows the answer.

14 years ago

As a parent and a teacher, I would opt for the reuse of old binders regardless of what they are made of. Most children who are old enough to us a binder are also beyond the age to put them in their mouths. I would take that savings and purchase other recycled items such as filler paper and composition books. I have spent a great deal of time cleaning out all the crap in my home so it freaks me out a little to just go out and buy even more crap. And Elle knows I am an office supply hoarder so I am definately changing, ever so slowly. Always love to hear what you have to say :)

14 years ago

Last thing I need is binders when I have a FedEx retail store and a Office Depot (with their voluminous dumpsters) nearby. Ring binders often end up in the garbage because people see the plastic and metal and don't know what to do with the combination when they are ready to heave them.

I like the "Stop and Think" you use for evaluation. I wish that would catch on with every product but, then again, what vendor would want to have a shopper stop and think about a purchase?

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hi everyone. Wow. Well, thanks for educating me about what kids put in their mouths. Although I have to say that when I was a kid, I watched my friends chew on all kinds of stuff and so did I. But probably mostly pencils and pens.

froghair — The FSC does certify products made from recycled content. Their FAQ says, "Recycled Material FSC has defined categories of recycled material, procedures used to verify the level of postconsumer content and how this may be included in FSC claims or labeled products. See the CoC Standard FSC-STD-40-004 for details."

Also, as to the plainess of the binders, I think maybe they can promote creativity if kids decorate them as they want to. Like how we made brown paper covers for our text books and decorated them every year.

Axelle, you crack me up. As usual.

14 years ago

If I got my hands on binders with detachable rings, I'd be able to make really great covers and then I wouldn't want my white plastic binders anymore. I'm so shallow.

14 years ago

I'll take ALL your WHITE binders. I'll pick them up from your front porch if you tell me when to come get them.

I used to create my own binder covers by ripping off the old ones and attaching "artistic" new ones with duct tape. Unfortunately, they were always ugly. Then one lucky day I found a curbside box full of empty white binders and my organizational life changed.

mother earth aka karen hanrahan
14 years ago

please don't include me in your give away ….i so don't need school supplies and have a box of "c" to give away myself. How I hoarded school supplies over the years is beyond me…but there it is.

I just wanted to comment on the brilliance of the resuable metal rings…fabulous feature.

I also think mainstream shopping doesn't even begin to offer these options…at least not what I've seen. To be green you also have to investigate and sort out all this information on-line and I personally find it overwhelming

Ever so glad to have you as a resource

14 years ago

I took a long time thinking about this. But my choice is A, C, then B.

A is great if you need new stuff, and if you are going to be flaunting your eco-friendly gear to a lot of people a.k.a. a college campus. It will hopefully hook (only AFTER the students are done mangling their own binders. I'd hope they wouldn't just throw away the plastic and buy new). It's all recyclable, friendly, reusable, and supports a community. I might buy these for next year.

B bothers me because it uses cotton, and the cotton isn't certified as environmentally friendly. Cotton is up there in the crops that use THE MOST chemical management. That's why it's best to buy hemp or bamboo clothing. The amount of chemicals in the air purely from cotton is atrocious.

C is always great. Why not use what's already been made before letting it enter huge trash sites?

Thanks for this,

14 years ago

Even though I'm going back to school, I already have everything I need (which I guess counts as a vote for C, actually). I reuse binders when I need them, and I gather the one-sided banner sheets from around my office and *gasp* write on the other side. I've stopped buying pens and am dedicated to using all of the ones I've managed to collect over the years.

I have a couple of questions though: would fiberboard that's already 100% recycled (post-consumer or not), need to be FSC certified? I would think that the FSC would only be concerned with virgin fiber. Please let me know what I'm missing here.

Also, is chewing on binders a real concern? Binder-using kids and teenagers are not teething toddlers. I find it hard to believe that *chewing* on binders is a serious health concern — at least enough of one to outweigh the other environmental impacts we're discussing here.

Beth, I like your "stop and think" highlights, but I think you add one to the very beginning: stop and think — do you really need a binder in the first place? Would a paper clip or paper folder (reused or recycled) suit your needs just as well, or even better?

Cheers, I really love your blog!

14 years ago

I was thinking about a question for this company. While these binders may be fine for high school and college students, they are VERY unappealing for younger children. I know we don't want kids to be slaves to fashion, but the reality is, most parents want their kids to fit in at least a little bit, and when everyone shows up to school with the latest superhero on their binder, or at least the the latest fashionable color, I don't think kids are going to want… cardboard brown. Or plain white. There must be something they could do to make these more appealing.

14 years ago

I've got to say that your argument about putting the binders in the mouth is probably not a big deal for kids old enough to actually need binders. My 2 year old totally would, but obviously she's not the target market. My 4 year old still absent-mindedly chews the odd thing, but nothing as large as a binder. She's more likely to chew a pen or a pencil, something she's holding in her hand anyway. Kids are unlikely to use binders until at least age 6, from what I've seen, by which age most (not all, but most) are highly unlikely to be chewing on binders.

For me, as a parent buying for kids, I would probably choose option B, then C, then A. We don't have a ton of binders around so we reuse our own for our own purposes, and I'd let the kids have new ones to start school. And frankly, I find the eco-ones kind of ugly. Although I do like the detachable rings aspect.

I actually don't have to make the decision though… the school my oldest daughter will be going to requests that we instead pay a fixed fee and the school buys and provides materials for all students, regardless of ability to pay. It may not be as environmentally friendly, but they do get to take advantage of bulk buying, minimizing the cost, help disadvantaged kids, and avoids the "status symbol" bs! And maybe, if enough concerned parents get involved, we can work on "greening" the choices.

Farmer's Daughter
14 years ago

Hi Beth!

Since I don't have children but am a teacher, I wanted to put in my two cents. Since I teach high school, it's a rarity for kids to chew on binders. But hey, I'm sure there are some kids who do, you know, teenagers. Anyway, I'm all about reusing what you already have. Many high schoolers need a separate binder for each class, which can become expensive. The great thing about 3-ring binders is that you can take out last-year's stuff and pop in new (recycled) paper for this year. That's what I do, and at the end of the year I offer to take binders from kids instead of them throwing them in the trash. (They do!) Then in September, I hand out the binders on a first-come basis.

I'm not entering, but the recyucled ones look really good for people who need binders to start with.

14 years ago

I choose A, B, and then C in that order. My primary hesitation about A is that I don't actually need some of the things in the package (primarily the badge holder). But all the rest of the things I would use. Because I am not only a college professor, but one who teaches environmental politics, using nifty and pretty and clearly eco-inspired school supplies would set an example and convince others — my students and maybe colleagues — to give them a try. (that's an argument in favor of either A or B, but I like the reusability of the binder rings on A, and its FSC certification — something I teach about — and I'm always using up my lined notepads and looking for more).

Right now I constantly re-use my plastic/PVC binders (which means I don't actually need any more right now). But I'm profoundly uncomfortable with PVC, so as they become unusable (which they eventually do) I want to replace them with something more eco-friendly. And, back in the "role model" element, because I carry notebooks etc. to class ever day and students see them, I'd actually prefer to have things less visibly plastic as I am trying to decrease my plastic use. So even though someone should make use of your plastic binders, doing so wouldn't be my first choice. (still, if you have no other takers I'd be happy to use them — pretty much all the ones I have now I have taken off of someone else's hands so they didn't get discarded).

Whew. I'll shut up now.

Beth (edesombr [at] wellesley [dot] edu)