By Elizabeth Minter

    The humble ring binder has been around for more than 135 years, having appeared in Germany in 1886. They are now ubiquitous. While exact numbers are not available, it is estimated that each year in the United States alone, between 50 and 60 million are sold.  

    While their design has changed little, their composition has. Binder covers were initially made of a heavy paperboard. Now, most have a plastic cover, often with steel edges. They don’t decompose, and therefore generate a huge amount of waste.

    But enter Green Collect, an environmentally focused social enterprise in Braybrook that transforms office items destined for landfill into items that can be used again or remade into other products. The company’s solution to ring binders – dismantling them manually to reuse or recycle all their composite material – is emblematic of its approach to a huge range of surplus or redundant products. 

    Each year, more than 45,000 ring binders (more than 400,000 to date) end up at GreenCollect and are repurposed into hand-made, customised notebooks. Staff have fashioned a machine incorporating a hole puncher to pop out the rivets so the steel ring can be easily removed. Another machine removes steel edges from the binder, and the stiff cardboard sheet is then manually removed from the vinyl cover. The material is then separated into piles. 

    Notebooks are then made, with the cardboard sheet becoming the cover. A5 sheets of paper are created from cut-down recycled A4-size letterhead – rescued from offices that are rebranding, for example, and the steel rings are sent to recycling companies. Notebook covers are also made from X-rays and old Melways. Green Collect is believed to be the only company in the world doing this work. 

    Green Collect’s 60-strong workforce processes 150 tonnes of stationery, electronics, furniture, clothing, and homewares every year: 47% of items are reused, while 45% of items are dismantled to be used in another way. In the past year alone, nearly 1 million items have been diverted from landfill.

    The company’s vision is of a zero-waste future – where the linear ‘create, use, dispose’ cycle becomes a circular economy of ‘create, use, reuse, remake’. It processes the gamut of office equipment: printers, computers, shredders and keyboards; electrical items; furniture; stationery, including letterhead, envelopes, and document files; and stationery supplies, including tape dispensers, pens, pencils, sticky notes, highlighters (which are re-inked), and hole punchers.

    While it might sound like production-line work, nothing could be further from the truth. Staff constantly conduct research to create solutions. Can the products be refurbished? If they can’t, how can they be reused? What type of plastic has been recovered? What can it be used for? 

    Only when staff can’t find a way to reuse material is it sent to recycling partners. As co-founder and CEO Sally Quinn explains: “There are a lot of subtleties to sorting materials and to finding solutions for complex items. Through our skills training in the circular economy, we equip staff to develop their expertise, to experiment, and to design solutions.”

    Sally says that social enterprises are well placed to respond to such challenges, thanks to their passion and creativity. “We operate from the understanding that the health of people and the planet are deeply connected, and this is at the heart of our purpose.”

    While social enterprises are growing in number and their impact, without the same access to capital as traditional businesses they face additional challenges.

    Sally, who has a social work background, co-founded Green Collect in 2005 with her partner Darren Andrews, who has a background in environmental management. With their social justice leaning, they wanted to provide work for people who faced barriers to employment, but that also had an environmental focus. 

    “We know that a job, and a job with meaning, can have a powerful impact in our lives. This is especially the case for people who have been shut out of work due to challenging circumstances, whether they are refugees, experiencing homelessness or have been involved in the justice system.”

    Employee Laura said it was great to work for a company whose values aligned with hers; and work that was challenging, and purposeful. “We are also constantly encouraged to think of new ideas. No idea is considered silly.”

    Social enterprises like Green Collect exist to create a fairer, more sustainable world. They must do three things: 

    1. Have a defined primary social, cultural or environmental purpose;
    2. Derive a substantial portion of their income from trade; and 
    3. The public/community benefit must outweigh the private benefit. 

    Green Collect derives more than 80% of its income through trade. Items brought to the warehouse are weighed to calculate the cost of processing, which is roughly in line with the cost of dumping items in landfill. Retail stores sell the refurbished home and office furniture, the custom-made notebooks and salvaged stationery, well as pre-loved clothing and household items. 

    But challenges remain. “Social enterprises are often competing with businesses solely driven by profits. We need to be clear about the additional value created by engaging social enterprises in a company’s supply chain and how we can work together for a better world.”

    Sally says there are encouraging signs of companies prioritising environmental and social outcomes when tendering or deciding how to purchase or dispose of office resources. 

    Sometimes lateral thinking is required. This might involve breaking down contracts into smaller components or rethinking an office set-up, for example. “Perhaps each chair or desk does not have to be exactly the same in different areas of a business. Companies can also first consider a reused item, which reduces the consumption of natural resources.”

    Green Collect remains grateful to their loyal corporate customers, which include local councils (Bayside, Darebin, Hobsons Bay); Victoria University; banks (Bank of Melbourne, Westpac and Macquarie); City West Water, legal firm Clayton Utz, construction company John Holland, Sustainability Victoria, Uniting Church and the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner.

    Green Collect: Office Recycling | Retail Stores | Green Collect – Reuse – Upcycle – Recycle – Ewaste Recycling

    Elizabeth Minter is Daniel Mulino’s media adviser.


    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

    Your feedback

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here



    Latest Articles

    Latest edition

    #97 June 2024

    Recent editions


    Become a supporter

    The Westsider is run on the power of volunteers. Your contribution directly contributes to ensuring we can continue serving and celebrating our community.

    Related articles