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Eco-Friendly Binders: A Lesson In Sustainability

Last July I wrote about Dennis Kitchen’s amazing non-profit organization, Getting Tools to City Schools, which provides free school supplies to low-income New York City students by selling recycled, reusable binders to schools.  I thought I’d check in with Dennis to see how sales of his eco-friendly binders were going and to learn more about the free educational component of his work.

Since last year donations to Getting Tools to City Schools have risen threefold due to an increase in corporate grants and in sales of the binders to schools. The response to GTCS’ eco-friendly binders has been so positive that Dennis is considering expanding his line of products to include 100 percent recycled tabbed pocket folder/dividers as well as custom-printed, eco-friendly binder labels of school logos. Although most schools don’t commit to buy binders until the summer, over the last few months Dennis has met with over a dozen public school principals who have verbally committed to buying the binders, which, if all goes according to plan, would result in the sale of about 10,000 binders. With that money Dennis anticipates providing over 3,000 public school students this coming September with free school supplies; last year his organization served 1,000 kids.

Whether a school is buying the binders or receiving the free school supplies, Dennis offers a free presentation about sustainability and how it directly relates to the life cycle of the binder. Students learn about the paper mill where the recycled binder covers are produced; they assemble the binders themselves under Dennis’s guidance. At the end of the school year, Dennis returns to the school when the students disassemble their binders. He collects the used covers, which are sent back to the paper mill to be recycled, while the school keeps the metal rings for reuse the following year. In the fall Dennis returns with new recycled binder covers, and the students use the metal rings from the previous year to assemble new binders. In this way students participate in sustainable living firsthand. In addition, money raised from the sale of the binders helps to provide low-income students with the supplies they need to succeed in school. GTCS provides students with a 3-ring recyclable binder, notebook paper, pencils, pens, pocket dividers and a pencil pouch.

Dennis understands that with the tremendous budget cuts schools are facing, principals are looking for a great deal as much as they are a good cause. Getting Tools to City Schools is an approved Department of Education vendor offering a significant discount to New York City public schools. The recycled binders are also a smart economic choice, because schools only have to buy the metal rings once since they’re designed to be reused. After the initial purchase of the binders, schools only need to buy the recycled covers, which dramatically reduces costs over the long run. And of course, GTCS binders also keep wasteful vinyl binders out of our landfills. Each year 40 million vinyl binders are sold in the United States, accounting for 35 million pounds of landfill.

Individuals as well as schools can purchase GTCS’s reusable binders. For every binder that is bought at full price, GTCS will give a free binder to a student at a low-income public school. The other advantage to the paperboard binder covers (which are FDA approved and Forest Stewardship Council certified) — your child can decorate it however she wants, allowing for full creative expression.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.