They’re an office staple and brilliant for keeping projects together, but what do you do when your trusty 3 ring binder gets a bit raggedy? Throwing them in the garbage isn’t the best option, especially as some of the materials might be recyclable – most binders are cardboard and then covered with plastic or vinyl.
Believe it or not, there are other uses for binders besides their designed function. We’ve come up with more than a few crafty ideas, and we hope you’re excited to learn what to do with old binders when they’ve outlived their use in your office.
What to do with old 3 ring binders
If it’s only the outside of your used binders that have seen better days, then give them a quick revamp. You can do this using a bit of spare wrapping paper, or even just brown paper. Strip the old covering material off and rewrap the cover to make your used binders look as good as new.
Top tip: For something a bit fancier, use fabric instead of paper. This is also a nifty trick for recycling old clothes you don’t wear anymore but love the pattern of!
Making your old 3 ring binder more vibrant and fun can also be done simply by painting it. Acrylic paints are one of the best for this kind of project. Start by removing any plastic or final covering so that you’re painting directly onto the cardboard, and coat in white paint. With this as your base, you can get really creative with the colors and designs.
Add some extra storage to your used binders by making inside pockets out of plastic or heavy-duty paper. Cut out the optimum shape for your binder and glue a thin line around the edges to fix the pockets to the inside of the binder. Make sure to leave the glue to dry for long enough before putting anything inside.
Now you know what to do with old 3 ring binders in the office – turn them into new ones!
Things to do with old binders
If you’d rather find other uses for binders outside of work, then some of our crafty options will suit you down to the ground. These are good projects for kids to do while supervised, too.
Used binders make for great document storage even without the rings inside. Transform them into slim boxes to keep homework tidied at school, or drawings filed neatly at home.
To transform your old binder into a box, stop by a craft or DIY store to pick up some wooden paint sticks. Use some pliers to carefully remove the rings from the center of the binder, then paint the sticks any color you choose. Add some glitter or some calligraphy, whatever you like, then glue them right on the edges of the binder’s shorter flaps. A hot glue gun is best for this, so take care when using one and ensure only adults handle it.
When the glue is dry, you’re done – it’s as simple as that! Decorate the rest of the outside and your new storage box is ready to go. And because binders are so flexible, you can change the width of wooden stick you use to make the box as wide as necessary.
If you really want to get crafty and make the most out of your binder and its storage space, you can even use one as a handbag. Yes, you read that right – Lenore Edman over at EvilMadScientisthas successfully done just this and provided a step by step guide on how to make your very own binder purse.
The above technique is pretty versatile and means you can turn your used binder into almost anything. Plastic of vinyl binders would be the best and more long-wearing type to use as a planter. Punch a couple of holes in the binder’s spine, which will become the base, and enclose the open sides with hard or soft plastic to the width you want. Due to the size, herbs and other small plants would work best in your new binder planter.
Another use for binders outside of work is to turn them into a scrap book. This is easily done with a few spare dividers with the tabs snipped off. Simply stick photos or ticket stubs or other memories onto the dividers to keep inside your new scrapbook. Again, you can get creative and decorate the outside of the binder however you like.
Used binders are really an artist’s dream. Each cover of the binder can be stripped to provide a canvas for a drawing or painting, or simply used as a palette for mixing paints. Scoring board for cutting paper with a penknife etc.
The size of a standard 3 ring binder also means the side are good for making signage and their material means they’re sturdy too.
Similar to how you closed the edges of the binder to make the storage boxes, glue wooden paint sticks to all three edges of the binder on one side and the spine. Rather than a slim, open top box, you’ve now got a lid! To make this repurposed binder pop in your bookcase, decorate the spine and cover like a classic novel. A couple of these on floating shelving units add a new dimension and interesting levels among your other books, especially as you can cut the binder to whatever height you like.
You can also fill the box with marbles or pebbles, or anything weighted, and seal up again to turn your faux novels into bookends that will keep your books in place without anyone being any the wiser.
Uses for binders outside of work don’t have to be boring and grown up – we’ve also got some great things to do with old binders that are perfect for kids.
Stage scenes for dolls
Remove the rings and paint the inside of the binder like a coffee shop or restaurant or park (or print out an image and stick it on!) and your used binder suddenly becomes an essential toy. This freestanding backdrop is now ready to provide hours of entertainment for dolls or action figures. Plus, it folds up and can easily be stored on a shelf. The possibilities for background scenes are endless, too, so before you know it, you’ll have a whole library of them.
Ramps and bridges for toy cars
Binders are a great sturdy material and versatile enough for crafting some homemade bridges or ramps for toy cars. The flexible edges and the spine of the used binder provide a good starting point for a bridge when opened out, they might just need a little reinforcement. When closed, you can glue the open end shut to make a super ramp!
Redecorate the outside of your used binder to look like a fancy restaurant menu and have your kids come up with some meal ideas they can write and draw on sturdy paper. Then when it’s time to play restaurant, they’ve got something they can actually hand to their loyal customers!
We’ve talked a lot about the main body of a binder and how versatile it is, but what to do with old binders’ rings once you’ve removed them?
First, find a sturdy bit of wall and attach the bar to it. Leave the rings open and you can easily hang up keys, dog leashes and collars, belts and all sorts. If you want to get really enterprising, you can hang the binder itself from the rings. Make a wide mouth storage box like we’ve described above but punch three holes in one of the long edges. Hang this new 3 ring binder combo near your front door and keep your mail tidied out of the way until you’re ready to sort through it. There is a great step-by-step tutorial on arts-and-craft blog destashio.
Stick the bar to the edge of your desk or the back of your TV unit and feed loose wires through the rings to keep them tidy and out of the way.
This is another one for the kids – or specifically for babies and toddlers. Use the rings from your used binders to hang jangly things from and make your own sensory toy. You can also tie different bits of material to each ring like faux fur, ribbon, velvet, or just plain cotton.
It is essential to make sure all sharp edges are properly and safely covered. Use padded material or rubber to cover the bar where the rings are attached and supervise the use of the toy.
If all else fails, the plastic and vinyl binders are a great rain repellent for when the weather turns and don’t want to get soaked when you dash from the office to your car!
Recycling used binders
If you’ve exhausted all the upcycling options, or simply have far too many old binders and don’t want to be overrun by scrapbooks and homemade storage boxes, then try and recycle your binder where possible. More often than not, if you remove any vinyl or other coverings from your binder, then they’re cardboard underneath and good to recycle. Plain cardboard binders are also great for kindling if you want to keep it at home rather than lumping it in with your other paper recycling.
For real recycling solutions, and one that doesn’t necessarily require you to break apart the binder yourself, check TerraCycle to see if they run a binder recycling program in your area. By sending your used binders to a company like TerraCycle, you’re ensuring that your old binder will be properly dismantled and each material recycled appropriately.
For the moment, they only take plastic and cardboard binders, but if you have a vinyl covered one, you can check the Vinyl Institute’s recycling directory to see where vinyl is being recycled near you.
For more informative articles about office supplies, subscribe to our email newsletter!
Never fear, you won't begin receiving daily sales emails that belong in a spam folder. Instead, we promise a fun weekly roundup of our latest blog posts and great finds from across the web. And if you lose interest, it's always easy to unsubscribe with a single click.