What's the sitch with folders and sustainability?
One of the only bright spots in the dark days leading up to the start of a new school year is buying fresh school supplies. Kids hide last year’s supplies under a bed or in a closet, even throwing away boxes of half-used crayons and notebooks, just to build a case to their parents that they need to go to OfficeMax and get a shitload of new stuff.
Some of these supplies may actually need replacing. Some pens have been systematically dried-out through mindless doodling. Other pens have had all their parts removed and lost, leaving just the central ink-tube, which is too slender a gripping circumference for legible handwriting. New notebooks for new subjects makes sense, organizationally. Staples can’t be reused. Etc. There are tools that learners need to be prepared to retain information.
But, some need not be replaced, and the fact that they still are each year smells very similar to a stinky corporate marketing conspiracy.
As you may have already inferred from the title of this sitch, I’m talking about folders. The hinged, rectangular pieces of cardboard that hold our notes and documents… and our dreams.
This basic tool is essential for separating groups of paper into their various academic subject categories, as well as for keeping these sheaves untattered. I’m not challenging their utility or necessity.
What I am challenging is whether it makes sense to ever buy a new folder again. We have the technology to make folders out of sturdy material, and we do. If you can avoid the obviously disposable, shoddily-made, paper-esque folders displayed prominently in the back-to-school section, there are plastic folders hidden a little bit further back, at very reasonable prices. Those folders will literally last a lifetime. They will last until they are digested in the gut of some poor Humpback Whale who thought it was a large, flat shrimp. They will last until there are only cockroaches left crawling over its shiny outer cover, post-nuclear apocalypse. They are sturdy.
If you aren’t a plastics person, there are slightly cheaper, laminated cardboard versions that last for years as well. I still own and use this folder:
I bought it during an especially ‘Family Guy’-heavy phase of life, before my sophomore year of high school. Full disclosure… that was 28 years ago. Yes, I’ve aged well. But the point is, without even trying, I’ve been able to maintain a 97-cent piece of laminated cardboard for nearly three decades.
One huge factor in being able to achieve this longevity is the fact that I didn’t write anything on the outside cover when I was initially using it for english class, or U.S. history or whatever. I left it clean of identifying marks, so that it would be able to seamlessly transition into future roles, holding notes from subjects yet to come… even subjects yet to be invented (i.e. ‘Blogging 101’ or ‘Gluten-Intolerance Studies’ or ‘Biking and Texting in the Modern World’ or ‘The Philosophies of Kanye’).
We need to tell our children, enough is enough. Stop writing on the outside of your folders. You don’t write ‘AP Calculus’ on your backpack, and then throw it away at the end of the semester; why should you do so with your folders?
Children should be given five, sturdy, US-Government-issued plastic folders, of all different colors, when they start kindergarten. They should be responsible for making those folders last through elementary school (a pretty short lifespan for even a poorly-treated folder). Then, they get five new folders for high school. And that’s it. If a folder needs replacing after that, there should be a lengthy, bureaucracy-laden process, where a claim is filed, a reason-for-replacement request is submitted, and a comity rules on whether or not the request is legitimate. If a person is found to have a real need for a new folder, then a new folder can be issued, for a substantial cost.
In this way, our children would learn from an early age that they need to care for their belongings, and that there isn’t just an endless supply of rectangular pieces of cardboard lying around. They would also learn to navigate the crushing bureaucracy of our government when they inevitably lose one of their precious folders early in their education.
I know their are more wasteful, problematic items in the broad discussion of our throw-away culture. Cars, smartphones, shoes, to name a few. But those things are all really, really cool. And they all make a lot of companies a lot of money. Folders are not cool. And I can’t imagine too many companies’ bottom-lines depend solely on their folder sales. Mead would take a hit, but fuck Mead. It would be easier to teach children these values using folders, a bland, ubiquitous, cheap, but unnecessarily-disposable item, than it would be to teach them using something that more people care about.
I’m here calling for the federal government to make folders a state-owned national resource, to be distributed systematically and frugally, in order to save our nation, one generation of school children at a time. Is that so much to ask?