Dear Recyclebank: What can I do with collections of old National Geographic magazines instead of just losing them to recycling? Libraries won't take them. Any suggestions? –Michelle L.
Dear Michelle: Whether you recycle or reuse magazines, you’re already saving trees. Conservatree estimates that each ton of the coated magazine paper used in National Geographic consumes over 15 trees; so giving those fibers a second chance at usefulness is valuable no matter the method. But which one is better? There are arguments for both: Recycling takes energy and resources, but it can repurpose old paper in much more versatile ways than reuse can. That said, the wealth of information in your magazines represents an already created value, which is lost forever when a magazine is recycled. It’s understandable that you’d want to keep them intact.
If your local libraries won’t accept magazines for donation, there are still a number of other places that may be happy to have them. Schools are a great choice; while younger kids can use the magazines for crafts, older students can benefit from reading them, and teachers can potentially even include them in the curriculum.
Otherwise there are plenty of organizations that could make use of your collection. Arts organizations are always looking for donated materials, as are art therapists and therapy groups. Hospitals, retirement homes, and shelters for the homeless and for survivors of domestic violence may also be happy to receive them. You can even send magazines overseas to deployed soldiers. One more option is the literacy non-profit MagazineLiteracy.org, which collects old magazines and redistributes them on your behalf to encourage language learning in communities nationwide.
In the event that none of these ideas work out for you, there’s still plenty you can do with your magazines at home. Get crafty yourself, with decoupage, and give your favorite pictures a permanent home on a box, vase, or other household item that will get regular use. You can also repurpose pages to make greeting cards, or as wrapping paper, which can add a nice personal touch if you choose articles and photos you know will interest the recipient. Add pages you love to a scrapbook, or go back to your school days and invite your friends to a collage-making party.
If worse comes to worst, there’s no shame in recycling what you can’t use. Even if you can’t keep all of your old magazines out of the stream, every bit you’ve reused will save time, labor, and fuel.