How to recycle a vinyl binder (Is it possible?)

Where can I recycle this darn vinyl binder?

One of the Naked Binder team set out to answer the question on everyone's lips," Where can I recycle this vinyl binder?". Turns out this is one of those mission impossible stories, but without the happy ending or Tom Cruise. Short answer, you can't. We recommend dissecting your vinyl binder, recycling the parts you can and sending the rest back to who ever made it. It costs more, but is more satisfying than throwing it away. Perhaps they will do something about it.

Staples did offer joint effort with terracycle to recycled vinyl binders, but it seems that is a thing of the past. The one place in the US you could potentially recycle a vinyl binder, stopped.

But I degress from our story:

The Story of Trying to Recycle a Vinyl Binder:

I am on a mission-- one that will hopefully be answered quickly and with a happy ending. A call came in early this Monday morning with a question posed to Naked Binder, “Where do I recycle the 1000 vinyl binders that I have?” Our answer, while according to the caller was helpful, didn’t seem to satisfy us. Where can you recycle vinyl? Now although this is not the first time that this question has been asked, it has sparked an interest to get to the bottom of this once and for all.

I first went to the American Thermoplastic Company’s website, I clicked on the ATC Greenteam link to provided me some direction. I spotted what I was looking for:

“Through our Environmentally Bound™ program, we recycle vinyl binders with metal rings that are returned to us. We reuse or recycle the various components of the binders. This reduces the amount of waste that goes into our nation's landfills. It also reduces the amount of material and energy required to make new products. Since the program began, over 200,000 pounds of loose-leaf binders have been recycled through Environmentally Bound™. Ask your customer service representative for more information about this worthwhile program.”

Wow! This is perfect I thought. So, I clicked the Environmentally Bound™ button on the nav. bar. This is what I read:

Recycling Program for Used Binders

"American Thermoplastic Company (ATC), in an effort toward environmental awareness, continues an exciting recycling project called Environmentally Bound. You can send your used three-ring binders with working metal rings and vinyl covers to our plant to be recycled, reused or properly disposed of. Since 1991 the Environmentally Bound program has kept over 200,000 pounds of loose-leaf products out of landfills. By participating in the program you will know that you made a contribution to the environment and that your used binders didn't end up in a landfill."

It goes on: Cover boards cannot be bent, broken or damaged. Binders must have working metal rings. Donors must handle all shipping costs. For shipments of 100 or more binders, ATC must see a sample and know total quantity before request can be approved. There will be a $5.00 per carton disposal fee for donors who are not ATC customers. The fee must be paid in advance with a credit card. Cartons cannot weigh more than 40 pounds each.

I called the company and spoke with a woman about recycling 1000 vinyl binders. She told me that for a quantity that large and because the binders were not made from them, I would need to send in a few to make sure they were acceptable. I asked why the rings have to be in working shape and she replied that they have to be in good condition because they will reuse the rings and also reuse the board on the inside of the vinyl. Well alright that sounds good, but what about the vinyl?

Good news. According to the woman I was speaking with, the company sends the left over vinyl back to a vinyl manufacturer and the manufacturer recycles it. Or they occasionally have others come to pick up the vinyl for other use (possibly to recycle).

But what if you used your vinyl binders? Having perfect rings and covers isn't easy if you have been using them.

The Search continues.

The EPA has a list of Materials and Waste Exchanges with contact information for every state and in my search so far, no one has been able to provide helpful information. Not a single organization I have called seems to have any clue as to how or where you could recycle vinyl.

The Florida Waste Exchange said that they had no idea where to recycle vinyl. The Florida Waste Exchange is a for-profit research service locating outlets for hazardous and non-hazardous waste and commonly handled non-hazardous wastes.

The Georgia EnviroShare & X-Change also doesn’t know of a place to recycle vinyl and said that if you can’t reuse it then it would probably just go to the landfill. The woman I spoke with said that I should try Veolia Environmental Services, so I first called the Florida office and then the Wisconsin office.

Veolia Environmental Services deals mostly with hazardous materials but when I spoke with the woman from the company she said that she doesn’t know anything about vinyl and that they only deal with hazardous materials. I told her that vinyl is toxic especially in large amounts. She had no idea. (see the CHEG's website for more informaiton, or the EPA)

I went to the Vinyl Institutes’ and found they listed many places to recycle vinyl. So I called them.

I called Able Plastics in Georgia. The man I spoke with first said that Able Plastics is a broker so they buy and sell truckloads of scraps. He went on to say that they don’t recycle vinyl and that something like a vinyl binder would have to be separated before they would even consider accepting it. He said that he doesn’t know of any company that would accept a whole binder for recycling and that he doesn’t know anyone that separates it out for you, so the individual recycling it would have to separate the material them self.

I thanked the man from Able Plastics for the information and went on to call B & B Plastics Recyclers in California. The man I spoke with said that they would recycle PVC vinyl but mostly work with commodity and engineering companies and recycle full truck loads of 40,000 pounds of materials at one time. Wow, most people only have a few binders with vinyl covers, not thousands of pounds.

I called Main Street Fibers Recycling of California that told me again, they don’t recycle vinyl. I thought, this is silly, why don’t I just contact because surely they would have the resources to find some place, somewhere that would accept vinyl. Well, I just got an email back from them and can you guess what they said?

“Thank you for contacting We do not currently have any locations accepting such items for recycling. I've included a few resources below to help you in your search. If the binders are intact, you might consider donating them to your local non-profit, school, or church for reuse.”

They had a link that read:

The Most Difficult Plastics to Recycle
Plastics Nos. 3, 4 and 5

Type 3 plastics include vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), type 4 are low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and type 5 are polypropylene (PP). PVC is used to manufacture food wraps, vegetable-oil bottles and blister packages, while LDPE is found in plastic bags, shrink wrap and garment bags. PP makes up items such as bottle tops, refrigerated containers and some food wraps, carpets and bags. PVC is often recycled and turned into drainage and irrigation pipes, and LDPE can be remade into grocery bags. Since plastics 3, 4 and 5 have a low rate of recyclability, there aren’t many municipal recycling centers that accept them.

If your local recycling center doesn’t provide recycling for these plastics, the next best option is to reuse them as many times as you can before disposing of them. Rinse the products out with warm water and mild soap so you can put food and beverages into them. Use bottle tops and shrink wrap in art projects, and create storage bags from garment and plastic bags.

So what did we find? If your binder is pristine, you can have it recycled. If you have, say 40,000 lbs of vinyl (80,000 binders or so) and a way to separate all the components, you can recycle them. Otherwise, you and most of the other people trying to recycle the 40-60 million vinyl binders sold in the US each year are adding to landfill, dioxins to the air and probably water supplies.

It doesn't make sense to use something that can't be recycled. There are alternatives that look better, last longer and are 100% recyclable. Until then, re-use those binders until you run out of duct tape.