The end of the school year goes by like a whirlwind. Once Spring Break has come and gone, it’s a race to the end and before you know it, your kids are coming home with what seems like boxes and bags of old school supplies.
What school supplies can be recycled and what can be reused?
Sort Everything First
The first step is to sort through what those kiddos bring home. The process we go through in our house is:
- Kids dump everything on the floor
- Mom throws her arms up in the air and shakes her head
- We get to sorting
For elementary aged kiddos, we would sort by type – all pens in a pile, all markers in a pile, all crayons in a pile, all glue bottles/sticks in a pile, all folders in a pile, until it’s all sorted out.
For middle school aged kiddos, we sort the writing utensils, the binders, the paper, everything else.
We haven’t had high schoolers yet but I imagine the sorting process will be quite similar to middle school.
Find Reusable School Supplies
After we’ve sorted everything, we figure out what can be reused and what either needs to be recycled or thrown away. There are always pens, pencils, markers, crayons, paper, etc that can be used again next year.
When you get that list of necessary school supplies at the beginning of each school year, don’t you always find yourself rolling your eyes at how many notebooks and composition books that are being asked for?
Every year, my kids come home with any number of notebooks and composition books that are about 1/8th used and the rest untouched. We just pull out the written on pages, throw them in the recycling bin and save the rest for next year or to be used around the house.
Where to Donate Used School Supplies
For the ‘still in usable condition’ supplies that for whatever reason you won’t have a need for, consider these options:
Develop Africa is an organization dedicated to helping schools in Africa by providing supplies they need for children to get a quality education. You can send new or gently used school supplies.
Churches – churches can use the markers, crayons, paper, pencils, etc during their summer Vacation Bible School as well as in the regular kids programs and preschools.
Daycares – many daycares would welcome the supplies to use in their classrooms or summer camps.
How to Recycle Old School Supplies
Aside from the paper, just about none of the school supplies can go in your curbside recycling bin and for the most part, they aren’t accepted at community recycling centers either.
So what do you do?
Where to Recycle
What school supplies can be recycled?
What do you do with old pencils?
Can 3-ring binders be recycled?
How do you recycle crayons?
The good news is, there are lots of options.
We’ll go through them by category:
Markers, Highlighters, Dry Erase Markers – Those that aren’t totally dried out, I’ll turn them upside down and put them in a box or something for a few weeks and then check to see if the ink has flowed down to the tip. If they are still dried out, I’ll recycle them.
- Crayola Colorcycle will accept any brand of marker, highlighter or dry erase marker and recycle them.
- PenGuyArt – this guy turns old markers, highlighters, dry erase markers into works of art. You have to mail them in unless you live in Sonoma County, CA, there are drop-off locations there. You will be responsible for postage if you mail them.
Pens and Pencils – dried up pens (I use the same turn upside down trick) and pencils can be sent to a few different places for reuse or recycling.
- TerraCycle is a fabulous organization that I love, so much so, one of my earliest blog posts is about the company. They (as of the date this post is written) have several brigades that accept writing instruments. The Dixon Classroom Recycling Program and the BIC Stationary Recycling Program. See my note below for more about my experience with TerraCycle.
Crayons – You can find several easy craft projects over here in my post about new uses for old crayons. If those aren’t up your alley, you have several options for recycling old crayons:
- The Crayon Initiative collects donated crayons from restaurants, schools, homes, etc from around the US, melts them down and turns them into new crayons. The best part, the crayons are then donated to children’s hospitals for use in art programs.
- Crazy Crayon Recycling Program takes old broken crayons and turns them into new crayons.
- No Crayon Left Behind is an organization that partners with restaurants to collect all those crayons that are used to occupy kids during the restaurant visit but then left behind. The gently used crayons are collected, sorted and distributed to organizations and schools serving underprivileged children.
- Crayon Collection partners with restaurants and hotels to collect crayons that are used to occupy kids during their visit to the restaurants. The crayons are collected and donated to Head Start Programs and local Title 1 schools in need.
Notebooks – if it’s a spiral bound notebook, remove the coil and any plastic covering. Toss the paper in the recycling bin and the rest goes in the trash.
Folders – plain paper folders can go in the recycling bin. For the plastic folders, if they are in decent shape, we save them and make any repairs (get a patterned duct tape and let the kids make their own design while taping together small rips). If they are pretty torn up, they have to go in the trash.
3-ring Binders – my son destroys these things (see below), they usually don’t last more than a year. My daughter is a different story. Tear off the plastic covering and throw that away. Pull out the cardboard inserts and put those in the recycling bin. Recycle the steel ring binder at your local steel recycling facility.
A note about TerraCycle, I have worked with this organization for 8 years and love what they are doing. They have a great program that is easily set up in a school, church or even daycare. Aside from the cost of packing tape and maybe boxes, there is not other cost. TerraCycle pays the shipping charges.
The one struggle I had was that their ‘brigades’ (collection groups) change when they lose the sponsor. What this means is brigades are frequently closing and new ones are starting but each brigade only has a certain number of spots in it. Many times there aren’t any spots open so you have to get on a waiting list.
They do have Zero Waste Boxes that you can pay for. I have not done this so I can’t offer any experience with it but it is an option.
Comment below and tell us, do your kids reuse school supplies from one year to the next?