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Leon Kaye headshot

Office Depot and TerraCycle Partner on Binder Recycling

By Leon Kaye

Most of us have accumulated a collection of school or office binders over the years, including the infamous Trapper Keeper, which has evolved from the primary colors that paired well with the big hair and pastel Reeboks of the 1980s, to what are now more vivid and modern hues. In adulthood, we accumulate more binders from countless employee training programs and those quarterly sales meetings.

Sure, you can reuse them over and over again, but what about when it comes time to dispose them? You could wield a screwdriver and disassemble them, but consumers are about as likely to do that as they are to scoop coffee grounds out of single-use coffee pods in order to recycle the foil tins.

Two companies say they have found an alternative to these contraptions generally made out of cardboard, vinyl and metal. Office Depot recently announced a partnership with market upcycling leader TerraCycle that both firms say can help boost waste diversion efforts.

The solution is relatively simple. Consumers with unwanted binders can schlep them to the nearest Office Depot location within the contiguous United States. Upon presenting them to a store employee, that customer will receive a $2 coupon for each beat-up binder, which can then be applied to the purchase of a new binder.

Be sure to read the fine print: Only six binders can be brought in at a time, and that coupon applies to a single purchase, whether it is an individual binder or a multi-pack. Par for the course: Do not to expect to get any cash back with that voucher for a free binder; as the usual retail lingo goes, the deal cannot be combined with any other offer. TerraCycle Points fiends will be disappointed, as any gathering of binders will only be compensated with the aforementioned coupons.

As of press time, it does not appear that these binder materials will be refashioned into new products sold at Office Depot. According to the company, any cardboard or paper product will be recycled, or even composted. Those pesky metal rings and spines will be smelted and then recycled. And the vinyl coverings will end up reprocessed into resin pellets that can be used for new industrial purposes.

This is another noble effort on behalf of TerraCycle, but as with more recent programs, this binder program’s scalability will be in question. The personal care products company Garnier, for example, is trying to convince consumers to recycle those bathroom empties; but the amount of bottles that must be shipped to TerraCycle may prove onerous for the average consumer, let alone for any dormitory or office trying to participate in that program.

This is not Office Depot’s first venture with TerraCycle. Three years ago, the retail chain’s southern Ontario stores participated in a coffee pod recycling scheme. After several months, both companies claimed success and said they would expand the program across all of Canada. Since that announcement, however, the companies have been silent about that program’s progress.

Nevertheless, if in the near future TerraCycle can release some solid numbers outlining this binder recycling program’s success, such an outcome could spur other retail chains to do the same – and, in the meantime, help divert a pesky waste item while freeing up more space in bookshelves and closets nationwide.

Image credit: Office Depot

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye