How to recycle different types of mail (with pictures)

Mailbox in Front of a House

You may receive a lot of junk mail every week. Advertisers are also becoming smarter about using distinct types of paper and envelopes to grab your attention. You are at the right place if you are confused about recycling different types of mail. Sorting through the mail and destroying sensitive information can also be a pain, but recycling it is not. You can easily recycle most of the mail you receive. You just need to take a few precautions.

The mail recycling guide below covers for all types of mail such as credit card offers, insurance offers, local restaurants flyers, charity solicitations, campaign mailers, catalogs, and magazines.

Different types of junk mail in your mailbox and how to recycle them:

Regular paper and envelopes:

This category is simple. You can recycle letter or envelopes made of regular paper. You can also recycle letters made of thicker material such as card stock. The next category will guide on paper envelopes with plastic windows.

Envelopes with plastic windows:

You don’t have to remove the plastic window from the envelope, but it’s better if you do. Removing the plastic window can make recycling more efficient. Paper recycling centers go through a sorting process where they sort out unwanted material such as stapler pins and plastic. However, that process may not filter all the plastic leading to low-quality recycled paper.

Picture of an envelope with plastic window
How to recycle envelopes with plastic windows?

Glossy envelopes and paper:

Glossy envelopes and paper are recyclable. However, if they have a plastic coating, they may not be recyclable. A simple way to check whether your glossy paper or envelope is recyclable is to do the “tear-test”. If it’s easy to tear the paper, you can recycle it. You may think glossy paper has plastic mixed in it. However, the clay content and calendaring (a process in paper-making) are what make the paper look glossy.

Mailers from Valpak, RedPlum, Money Mailer, and RetailMeNot would go in the recycling bin too.

Plastic padded envelopes or bubble envelopes:

A bubble envelope mainly comprises two materials: paper and bubble cover. To properly recycle bubble envelopes, just separate the bubble cover from the paper. Then you can recycle the paper separately from the plastic.

Picture of a bubble envelope
How to recycle plastic padded envelopes or bubble envelopes?

Catalogs and magazines:

You can recycle catalogs and magazines along with the regular paper. If your catalogs and magazines came with a plastic cover, remove the plastic cover before recycling. Make sure you remove any add-ons such as product samples, stickers, plastic cards, or plastic windows before recycling.

4 important things to know before you take off for recycling your mail

1. Don’t mix shredded paper with regular paper:

Shredded paper’s fiber is too short for recycling at most recycling centers. Some centers can recycle shredded paper, but it requires special techniques and processing. Shred your paper only if you need to. If you have a lot of shredded paper, you either use it as compost or check if local recycling centers accept shredded paper. If you plan to take it to a local recycling center, make sure you pack it properly so that the paper doesn’t fly loose.

2. Don’t recycle plastic cards and address labels:

Remove plastic cards such as fake credit cards from the mail before recycling. Check for address labels too. Address labels are the one’s charities insert hoping that you will mail back donation. You can either recycle these items along with plastic or trash them depending on the kind.

3. Don’t recycle wet paper:

Once a paper becomes wet, its damaged fibers make it unfit for recycling. Wet paper can also cause contamination in the recycling process. Please handle the mail carefully and keep the paper dry. If you store your junk mail along with cardboard boxes in the backyard, remember to move the mail indoors if it may rain.

4. Paper with food or grease residue can affect recycled paper quality:

Mixing greasy paper that has food stuck to it with clean paper can affect the quality of the recycled paper. During recycling, machines mix the paper with water to form a slurry. Since oil doesn’t mix with water in the slurry, it can lead to the formation of bad quality paper pulp or unusable recycled paper. Paper mail with food residue can also cause bacteria or mold to grow on the paper. This can make recycling centers unsanitary for workers in the recycling center. Do your best to keep your mail clean, dry, and away from any food.

Why should you recycle mail properly?

Some data points below will provide a convincing answer and encourage you to recycle better. Poor recycling practices lead to more waste ending up in landfills. Paper and paperboard still account for 13% of landfill waste in America, according to the EPA. Recycled paper also requires about 60% of the energy used to make paper from virgin wood pulp. Data suggests that an average American uses 700 pounds of paper every year, which is equivalent to 6 trees cut for every person in America. Every bit you do contributes towards reversing the damage that is being done.

What about the core problem: the existence of junk mail?

We have digitalized almost everything around us today. What about paper mail? It’s still the same. Less than 2% of paper mail is opened today. We use about 100 million trees every year just to produce junk mail. Factories that create and ship out junk mail are responsible for carbon emissions equivalent to about 9 million vehicles. Opting out of junk mail is a solution, but not an ideal one. Consumers should be able to access deals, coupons, and important communications all the time. Opting-out prevents a lot of consumers from receiving these communications. 

Instead of opting-out of mail completely, we have another innovative solution. We are building an app where you can receive your mail offers digitally and earn cash rewards for saving trees. Sign up below and be the first to know:

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