How to Recycle Notebooks

Nearly all notebooks, including spiral-bound notebooks, can be recycled relatively easily.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Recycling Notebooks
Recycling Notebooks / Sander Tamm / Ecolife

Aspiring writers, pensive teens, and business people all use journals and notebooks to jot down ideas, confess their deepest, darkest secrets, and express creativity. And sure, there are many ways notebooks are useful in our lives, but when it comes time to get rid of them, they can be a bit of a recycling challenge. But no more! With our guide to recycling journals and notebooks, you’ll never have to wonder again how to turn your spent words into new materials.

Reduce notebook and journal use

Precycling is perhaps the best way to recycle your notebooks and journals before they experience the first stroke of your pen. Try using these tips for reducing your dependency on the written word:

  • Journal your daily thoughts by using a software-based word processor. Not only will you be able to save space, you can search your journal entries for past wisdom much more easily this way!
  • Take notes in class using a laptop instead of a notebook.
  • If you can’t live without the feeling of hand writing, try a tablet computer that allows you to use a stylus to get your thoughts down digitally.
  • Use a voice recorder to collect your thoughts and record to-dos for yourself audibly.
  • Get a smartphone that allows you to keep track of tasks and appointments digitally.

How to recycle spiral notebooks

Though many ask, “can you recycle notebooks?” the answer is most definitely, “Yes!” Recycling journals and notebooks can be relatively simple when you understand the various components.

  • Metal and plastic coils: Some advanced recycling systems will allow you to throw the paper and metal or plastic binding portion of a notebook into the blue bin still bound together. The metal will be separated from the paper during the recycling process. Just be sure to find out one way or another before assuming it’s okay to not disassemble your notebooks. If you do need to remove them, see our tips below for how to recycle notebook coils.
  • Plastic covers: These should always be removed from notebooks for recycling as they will contaminate a batch of paper recycling. Sometimes this portion of the plastic can be recycled separately, but you should ask your recycling personnel to be sure.
  • Cardboard covers: Depending on how your recycling services handle cardboard, you may be able to leave the cardboard and paper bound together as they are often processed similarly. Give your local recycling facility a call to find out their preference.
  • Paper: The paper portion of most notebooks can be recycled with your regular mixed paper or office paper recycling, even after you’ve written on it. This can also be composted with your regular compost pile or in your worm bin as long as you’ve used vegetable-based or soy-based inks to write on the paper.

How to remove the coil from a spiral-bound notebook

Whether your notebooks are bound together with a plastic or metal coil, you should remove this portion of the notebook before recycling the paper and the cover. Here are two methods for removing a notebook’s coil you can try:

  • Unwind: Start by securing the notebook on a counter or table with the coil hanging over the edge. Weigh it down with a heavy object and then find the crimped parts (at each end) of the coil. Snip off both crimped portions and then start to pull the coil out of the holes. It should unspiral until the whole thing comes free.
  • Pull: Many types of plastic coils have separate “rings” for each hole in your journal or notebook. That means removing it can be as easy as pulling the coil from the bound-side of your journal. The pages should all be separate and ready to recycle.

Once your coil is free, here are some suggestions for how to reuse the coil:

  • Cut the coil to a few inches, then bending it at one end to make Christmas ornament hangers
  • Make homemade paperclips
  • Twist the wire so that it turns into a dipper for decorating Easter eggs
  • Use the wire to create jewelry
  • Use it as the wire for hanging pictures
  • Attach something fun to the end to create an interesting, bobbly garden ornament
  • Create miniature dollhouse books
  • Donate plastic coils to schools or photocopy shops for reuse

If you can’t reuse your notebook coil, you may be able to recycle it. If your coil is metal, it should be recyclable with your other metal materials. Plastic coils can often also be recycled depending on the type of plastic used. Check with your local recycling facilities to ensure whether this is acceptable in your curbside bin.