Dear Recyclebank: Can I recycle poly folders? School-supply shopping is around the corner, and I want to plan ahead. If not, is there a more eco-friendly option that is still durable? –M. Chung
Dear M.: As you make your back-to-school shopping list, it’s wise to consider what the future impact of your purchases might be on the environment. How long do you plan on using your new purchases? How long will they physically last? Are they biodegradable, or can they be recycled? Choosing folders is a good place to start. As you mentioned, polypropylene folders (poly folders for short) are more durable than other options, so you won’t have to toss them after they tear, or if they get wet, as you would with cardboard folders. The tradeoff though, is that the disposal of poly folders is less straightforward.
The good news is that polypropylene is fully recyclable; it’s labeled as #5 plastic under the Resin Identification Code (RIC). Unfortunately, polypropylene still isn’t as widely accepted by curbside recycling programs as other plastics are. Check your handler’s guidelines to see if you’ll be able to recycle them with your regular load of recycling. (If so, be sure to remove any mixed materials, such as metal grommets, first.)
If you can’t put your folders in the recycling, you still have options. Save your folders and other #5 plastics to mail back to Preserve’s Gimme 5 program, or find a drop-off box near you. The only potential issue is that they’ll only accept items that are clearly stamped with a #5 RIC, so if your folders are unmarked, this isn’t your best bet.
Keep in mind that a poly folder is likely to last for a number of years, partly offsetting the waste of a cardboard folder that might not even hold out until the next summer vacation. That said, if you have a compost pile or no easy access to a program that accepts polypropylene, cardboard may be the better choice for you. No matter what you choose, try to find folders made of post-consumer recycled material such as these or these.