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Proper Green: How to Get Rid of the Year's School Supplies

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School is letting out, and backpacks full of old textbooks and writing utensils are piling up in homes. Here’s how to clear that clutter in a green way.
Dear Proper Green,

The school year is ending soon, and I’m already dreading the closet full of school supplies. How do I dispose of all of them?

-Tamara, NJ

Dear Tamara,

It’s going to take some sorting, but it won’t be too bad! I’d recommend sorting the school supplies into piles first: Loose papers (like those old homework assignments), textbooks and assigned-reading books, writing supplies, any electronics (calculators and the like), and then the backpacks, lunch boxes, and pencil cases. Once you’ve got it all sorted:

  • Loose Papers: Recycle.That was easy! Though, if you have a bit of extra time to go the extra mile, you could first separate out paper that was only used on one side, and set those sheets aside for taking down messages or writing grocery lists before finally recycling them.
  • Books: Because of the glue in bookbinding, recycling books through your municipal recycling program might not be an option. Check with your waste hauler first, and then recycle or… Aim to donate and/or resell. There are lots of textbook buy-back or recycling programs, like Textbook Recycle, and you can usually sell any kind of book on resell sites like, or donate at local schools, libraries, reservations, shelters, or correctional facilities.
  • Writing Supplies: Save the ones that still have some lead or ink, and place them alongside your scrap paper piles for taking down messages, or set them aside for the beginning of the next school year. Unfortunately all those now-unusable utensils are pretty hard to recycle; your best bet is to search for a mail-in recycling program like TerraCycle’s, or find some creative ways to reuse old pens and pencils. Some pencil shavings can be composted, and you can also get crafty and make jewelry with pencil stubs.
  • Electronics: Calculators, e-tablets, laptops, and any accompanying batteries or plugs should all be donated, resold, refurbished, or recycled. Check with local electronics stores to see if they offer any e-waste collection services.
  • Backpacks, Lunch Boxes, Pencil Cases: Check out Live Green’s Supply Chain 101 for tips on washing and fixing up the gear (patches are great for adding personality to backpacks while also extending their life), and then think about ways you might be able to best reuse them. Backpacks that might not be suited for school could be great for travel (especially to hold games for kids), or for storing first aid and emergency gear in a car, while insulated lunch boxes can help you green your road trips, and pencil cases can serve double duty by storing anything from sewing and craft supplies and unfiled receipts to makeup, toiletries, or jewelry when you’re traveling.

Do you have any tips on what to do with old school supplies? Share yours in the comments below!
About Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and the environment are still evolving) to providing easy ways to make your every day more sustainable, Proper Green aims to help smooth the way with answers to questions that are important to you!

Do you have a question for Proper Green? Send inquiries to Please note: Questions may be edited for clarity and length.

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Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more