Hard to explain how the vast majority of binders and other supplies designed for kids (including erasers, pencil cases, lunch boxes) have for decades been made with what many consider the most toxic plastic: PVC (aka vinyl or polyvinyl chloride). It's not only notoriously polluting to manufacture, but makers regularly mix in all sorts of toxic additives like lead, cadmium and hormone-disrupting phthalates - all banned from children's toys but still perfectly legal in school supplies. FYI, some brands like Hilroy and Davis offer vinyl- and PVC-free options, so always double check. The binders that don't readily reveal their plastic source tend to be made of vinyl.
MEAD, FIVE STAR, HILROY POLY
These guys are all owned by the same parent company, ACCO Brands, so it's no surprise they're equally vague about what most of their binders are made of. The only time they're straight with customers is around "poly" binders which are made of safer PVC-free polypropylene. All the ones I've spotted on shelves are made in China, with no mention of recycled content.
WILSON JONES POLY BINDERS
Love that this American company has ditched PVC and mostly offers safer polypropylene (aka poly) binders with at least 30 per cent post-consumer recycled content, and 100 per cent recycled chipboard backing. According to WJ's numbers, that adds up to a hefty 450,000 pounds of waste diverted every year. Plus, the poly fabric is way more resistant to tears than cheap PVC. The binders are assembled in the U.S. The company makes a plain kraft-paper-covered recycled version, too. The inner chipboard is 100 per cent recycled; the outer material 70 per cent.
SCORE: NNN (add an N for the kraft binder)
3R 100% RECYCLED BINDER
You'll totally ace environmental studies if you cart a binder made of 100 per cent recycled paper fibres to class. This one by Davis is 90 per cent post-consumer recycled (meaning the paper comes out of household blue bins). No added dyes or plastics here. Full disclosure: since it's cardboard, it may not last you the length of your degree, but neither do PVC binders. When you're done with these, however, you can pop off the metal ring, recycle the casing and reuse the ring in a new binder. This one, available at Office Depot, is made just north of Toronto.
ME TO WE ZIPPER BINDER
Brought to you by the gang at Me to We, Free the Children's sister enterprise, half of whose profits go toward FTC's global non-profit work. Each Me to We Zipper Binder purchase gives a year of clean water to a family in need. Me to We's partnered with Staples to sell a whole line of school supplies (school and lunch bags, tablet sleeves and more). Each comes with a code that allows you to track your impact online. These lose a point for being manufactured in China (by ACCO, maker of Mead, Five Star and Hilroy). And they're not biodegradable or recyclable like cardboard binders. But they're made of 50 per cent recycled PET (considered safer than PVC), and the zippered polyester should be more durable than cardboard or vinyl, ideally lasting semester after semester.