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In the United States, it is estimated that more than 170 million back packs are sold annually. Some of these may be first time back pack purchases, but a lot of them are replacement bags. This means that potentially hundreds of thousands or even millions of back packs are disposed of each year. These back packs may end up in landfills, adding on to the waste problem in the United States.

A solution to this is to find something to do with your old backpack besides throw it away. In many cases, the backpack can still be used for something. When trying to figure out what to do with old backpacks, remember the 3 R’s: Recycle, Repurpose, and Repair.

Recycle

Many backpacks are made of recyclable materials. Even if they aren’t, the bags can be taken apart so that the individual parts can be reused or recycled. The first step in recycling a back pack is to figure out what material your back pack is made of. In most cases, it will be obvious what the material is. In others, you may have to look at the inside tag or refer to the manufacturer.

Once you figure out which material your back pack is made of, you will know if that material is compostable or biodegradable. If it is, then you can take apart your back pack and take the fabric and parts to a compost center. If it isn’t, the fabric and parts can be recycled into something else such as a different type of bag, a pillow, or any other creative idea.

Parts of the bag can also be recycled. For example, buckles are a great part that can be recycled. Buckles can be used in a number of other creative projects such as clothing, other bags, and more. Depending on the material that the buckle is made of, they could be recycled with other things in your home. For example, buckles that are made of plastic can easily be recycled with plastic bottles and other plastic recyclables. Other parts that could be recycled include zippers, straps, wheels, and handles depending on what material they are made from.

There are also new services popping up that will recycle your back pack for you. For example, Terracycle is a company that allows people to send in their old back packs to be recycled. Simply order a zero waste box from them, send in your back pack, and they handle the rest. There are other companies that offer similar services. Simply find one that is right for you and recycle your bag.

Repurpose

Old back packs can be used for many creative or philanthropic ideas. One such idea is donating to charity. There are many underprivileged children whose parents can’t afford back packs. If your back pack has some wear and tear, you could repair it (see the next section) and then stuff it with some school supplies such as pencils, paper, crayons, a ruler, etc. This can be donated to a local school, orphanage, or an underprivileged family in your neighborhood.

You could use the same idea for homeless people or for women in domestic abuse shelters. Many women in these situations have had to flee their homes without being able to pack anything. Some of these women also have children. Homeless people often don’t have the basic necessities for hygiene. You could stuff the old back pack with hygiene products like toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, lotion, sanitary napkins, and more. Other items that you could include (depending on how large the back pack is) are things such as a blanket, bottled water, non-perishable food items, socks, undergarments, a book or magazine, toys, or more.

You may still be able to use your old back pack in other ways besides your main source of carrying things. Here are a few ideas:

  • Old back packs could be used for storage purposes. The bag could be great for storing shoes, clothing, pictures, books, or anything else that could fit inside. They can also be used as a sort of file cabinet to store papers.
  • Old back packs could be used in a play. If you have a local community theater, you could donate your old back pack to them. They usually have a seamstress who can repair it and make it useful for stage.
  • If your back pack is made with a hard back, you could cut the top off and make it into a pet bed. Just place a blanket or a small pillow into the hard part and decorate it to your liking.

Repair

Repairing an old back pack is another option. When back packs become old and worn out, most people simply buy another one and get rid of the old one, but this isn’t always necessary depending on the extent of the damage. You can repair the back pack yourself, or, in some cases, you can send the back pack to the manufacturing company and they will repair it for you.

Repairing Your Own Back Pack

Old backpacks can have a lot of wear and tear. You may need to have them cleaned, have holes repaired, or have parts replaced. No matter what type of repair needs to be done, you can accomplish it with a little bit of effort and possibly even a lot of fun.

For cleaning, some backpacks can be washed in a washing machine. Others can be dry cleaned. Hand cleaning is also a good option for a lot of back packs. Which ever method you choose, try to use detergent-free soap because detergent can damage back pack material, especially if it is waterproof material. Hang to dry and try to hang the backpack upside down.

If you need to repair holes or tears, try using a patch. Patches come in many different colors so you should be able to find one that matches your backpack or compliments it. Clean the area around the hole or tear thoroughly and allow it to dry before you adhere the patch. After it is dry, cut the patch down to a size that fits over the hole or tear and use seam grip to adhere it to the bag. Cut another patch down to size and adhere it on the inside of the bag over the hole or tear. Allow the seam grip to dry completely so that you get a water proof seal.

Zippers can sometimes be easily repaired depending on the extent of the damage. You can use needle nose pliers to bend zipper teeth back into place if they have bent out of shape. Jams may be able to be repaired using lip balm as a lubricant. If the entire zipper needs to be replaced, you can do this if you are zipper savvy. If not, then a trip to a seamstress could save you some trouble and money.

For parts that need to be replaced such as buckles or straps, they may be found at a very inexpensive cost at a local hobby store. You may also be able to have these parts replaced from the manufacturer of your back pack. Information about this is in the next section.

Companies That Have Backpack Warranties

Many backpack companies offer warranties on their back packs. When shopping for backpacks, this is something good to keep in mind. You can choose brands that have great warranties on their backpacks so that you will be able to keep your backpack longer. Some of these companies even have lifetime warranties. When a company offers a lifetime warranty on a backpack, this is a good indication that the backpack is of very high quality and you most likely won’t have problems with it, but in case you do, they will repair it for you.

Note: As a general rule of thumb, the warranties don’t cover normal wear and tear (things like holes, discoloration, etc.)but these types of repairs can be handled a different way.

Here are a few companies that offer warranties on their backpacks:

  1. Jansport is a company that deals mostly in backpacks. They have been manufacturing backpacks since 1967 and are known for having some of the highest quality backpacks on the market. Jansport offers lifetime warranties on their back packs, including limited edition back packs. If your Jansport back pack breaks, simply go to their website, fill out the online warranty claim form, and send them your back pack. They will repair it free of charge. If the back pack can’t be repaired, they will send you a replacement free of charge. It is important to note that this warranty only applies to back packs. Their other products may have different warranties. Your Jansport back pack must have been purchased from an authorized Jansport dealer and for products purchased outside of the United States, warranties may be different.
  2. The North Face is a company that is dedicated to quality in all of the products they manufacture. The Northface has been manufacturing products since 1968. They offer a lifetime warranty on many of their products including back packs. If you need repairs on your The Northface back pack, simply click the link for a warranty return form on their website and fill it out. Although their warranty, like most, covers manufacturer defects they will repair “wear and tear” problem at a charge. Besides this, they will repair or replace your backpack free of charge. You may also be able to get replacement parts for your bag. Please note that The Northface will not repair dirty backpacks. It is their policy that if your backpack is dirty, they will charge you a cleaning fee or either send your backpack back to you without repairing it. The Northface warranty only covers products purchased from authorized The Northface dealers and only applies to purchases from the United States and Canada.
  3. High Sierra is a company that deals mostly in the bags industry. They are known for producing high-quality bags. High Sierra offers a lifetime limited warranty. They will cover all bags except the ones with wheels (products with wheels only have a five year warranty). To send your High Sierra product in for repair, they have a link on their website that you can click and fill out, or you can visit a High Sierra store to process your repair request. They can also offer replacement parts for your bag.
  4. Timbuk2 is a company that hand-sews back packs. Their products are of superior quality and they offer a lifetime warranty on the back packs. Their warranty covers manufacture defects. If the repair that you need is not covered by the warranty, you may be able to pay a fee to have your bag repaired. In order to have your bag repaired or replaced, you must register your bag on their website upon purchase (purchase must be from a Timbuk2 store or an authorized seller). The repair request must be processed through their customer service. The contact information is found on their website. They also offer replacement parts for their bags.

A New Purpose for Your Old Bag

When figuring out what to do with old backpacks, the easiest choice is to just throw it away. The better choice is to recycle, repurpose, or repair your back pack. No matter which of the three R’s you choose to use for your old back pack, you will be doing the environment a favor and possibly save yourself some money in the long run.