Updated on July 18th, 2023

Mails play a significant role in our daily lives, despite the prevalence of email and the challenges brought by the global pandemic. Paper envelopes, glossy magazines, and cardstock postcards continue to be essential modes of communication. However, we often overlook the importance of recycling the vast number of mails that inundate our mailrooms and doorsteps every day, which presents a tremendous opportunity to reduce pollution and protect the environment.

Among the mail that arrives, there are various items that can be recycled. From unsolicited mail, commonly known as “junk mail,” to envelopes with plastic address windows, bubble mailers, shipping boxes, and packing peanuts, a multitude of materials can find new life through recycling. Unfortunately, due to the perceived low value and confusion surrounding mail’s recyclability, millions of tons of valuable paper and cardboard end up in landfills across the United States annually.

This situation represents a missed opportunity. Not all mail is junk; in fact, understanding what can and cannot be recycled benefits not only the economy and the environment but also reduces waste disposal costs for businesses. By taking the initiative to recycle paper envelopes, envelopes with plastic address windows, glossy magazines, and cardstock postcards, we can contribute to the preservation of our planet and create a cleaner, more sustainable future.

It seems simple enough, right?  You use the recycling bins at home, the movie theater, the park, the beach, the amusement park, they are virtually everywhere for your aluminum cans, glass bottles, and paper products.

You want to do your part in leaving the environment a better place and it’s a simple enough thing to do.  Recycling your everyday waste doesn’t take time out of your day and it doesn’t cost you any money, so it’s a win/win.


The Waste Problem Caused By Junk Mail And Online Retail

As per the USPS, the postal service handles and delivers a staggering 173.1 million pieces of first-class mail every day. In this mix, it is estimated that each American receives approximately 18 pieces of junk mail for every legitimate piece of mail they expect. The primary source of this flood of mail is American businesses, which sent out a remarkable 149 billion pieces of direct mail and nearly 9.8 billion catalogs in 2016.

These numbers add up to an average of 41 pounds of junk mail per person per year, with approximately 50% of it being discarded without being opened or recycled. Shockingly, this results in over 5.6 million tons of catalogs, addressed envelopes, and other direct mail advertisements ending up in U.S. landfills annually, when considering just the envelopes, contents, magazines, and cardstock forms of junk mail, it is estimated that American households collectively waste the equivalent of 100 million trees’ worth of paper.

The situation is compounded by the rise of digital retail, which experienced significant growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, online consumer spending reached a staggering $861.12 billion, marking a 44% increase from the previous year. This surge in online shopping necessitates a substantial amount of shipping boxes and packaging materials.

The Fibre Box Association reveals that U.S. manufacturers produced a vast 407 billion square feet of corrugated cardboard, a year-over-year increase equivalent to an additional 477 square miles of product. The shipping industry witnessed unprecedented demand, with box shipments reaching a record-breaking 34 billion square feet for five consecutive months in 2020, partially driven by online retail giant Amazon shipping a staggering 415 million boxes in July 2020.

The excessive use of cardboard has detrimental effects on the environment. The Environmental Paper Network estimates that approximately 3 billion trees are harvested each year solely for paper packaging. While corrugated boxes boast an impressive recycling rate of 96.5%, there are still nearly 1.2 million tons being burned or sent to landfills.

The continuous and robust flow of U.S. mail and the surge in online deliveries have led to shortages, supply bottlenecks, and soaring prices for recycled cardboard and mixed office paper. The current situation highlights the urgent need for e-commerce and direct mail senders to encourage their recipients, both commercial businesses and individual consumers, to recycle their mail and packages. Moreover, considering that paper and cardboard can be recycled up to seven times without any loss in quality, it becomes essential to recognize and prioritize the value in sorting and recycling these materials.


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What Mail is Recyclable? 

Recycling is one of the best ways to go green and preserve our environment, and interestingly, a large portion of our daily mail is recyclable. let’s explore the recyclability of mail and its significance in promoting environmental sustainability. With the word “mail-recycle” in mind, we delve into the question of which types of mail can be easily recycled. Understanding the recyclability of different mail items is crucial for making informed choices that contribute to reducing waste and protecting our planet. In the following sections, we will discuss the various categories of mail and provide insights on how they can be responsibly recycled, highlighting the positive impact such recycling efforts can have on our environment.

What Mail Is Easily Recyclable?

In the upcoming content, we will discuss the types of mail that are easily recyclable, providing insights on how to responsibly recycle these materials and contribute to waste reduction and environmental conservation.

Catalogs and magazines: including advertisements and local or national papers, are easily recyclable. Even glossy cardstock varieties can be recycled as the glossy finish is removed during the pulping process. However, it is important to remove any product samples, sticker sheets, or plastic wrap from magazines before placing them in the recycling bin.

Newspapers have long been recyclable, and they can contribute to a closed-loop recycling process where recycled newsprint is used to manufacture new editions. Additionally, the brown packaging paper commonly found in shipments, often used as an alternative to packing peanuts, should be recycled along with other paper and cardboard products. Interestingly, both newspapers and brown filler paper can also be shredded and composted effectively as a carbon-rich material.

When it comes to personal or sensitive information, businesses often encounter mail containing confidential materials. Shredding is a common practice for such mail. However, shredded paper may not be accepted by waste haulers due to its reduced value and challenges with mechanical sorting. In such cases, it is recommended to manually remove or black out sensitive information and recycle the remaining paper. Alternatively, you can opt for data security companies like Iron Mountain, which recycle the shredded scraps.

Advertising mail, which includes flyers, letters, or postcards with enticing deals or coupons, is usually recyclable if they are made from copy paper or cardstock. However, pieces with foil or specific coatings may not be recyclable in most areas. It is also important to note that if advertising mail contains plastic elements like fake credit cards or sensitive information, they should not be tossed in the recycling bin. Proper disposal methods, such as shredding, should be followed to protect personal information.

Envelopes with address windows pose no major issues for recycling in most paper recycling facilities. Although it is beneficial to remove the plastic window, it is generally filtered out during the pulping process along with other non-paper elements like staples and paperclips.

Paper padded envelopes can be recycled if they are padded with shredded newsprint. However, if the envelope is padded with bubble wrap or plastic materials, it cannot be recycled in curbside bins. In such cases, the plastic can usually be returned to locations that accept plastic bags. It’s important to be aware that some padded envelopes may have special coatings or be made of plastic instead of paper, making them non-recyclable.

By understanding the recyclability of different types of mail, we can make informed choices to reduce waste and promote a more sustainable future.

What Mail Is Not Recyclable?

In the upcoming content, we will explore the types of mail that are not recyclable, shedding light on the materials that should be handled differently to ensure proper waste management and environmental sustainability.

Bubble mailers and padded envelopes: require special attention when it comes to recycling. If they contain plastic bubble wrap on the inside, they should not be placed in your regular recycling bin. Instead, check for local drop-off locations that accept plastic bags and other flexible plastics. By utilizing these designated recycling facilities, you can responsibly recycle bubble mailers and contribute to reducing plastic waste. Remember to follow the guidelines of your local recycling program for proper disposal.

Air pockets, bubble wrap, packing peanuts and mailer boxes: When it comes to recycling mailer boxes, it is essential to remove the protective fillers such as air pockets, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts. This step is necessary to ensure the cardboard can be recycled properly. If feasible, consider reusing these fillers for your own packaging and shipping requirements. Alternatively, look for dedicated collection sites, particularly for polystyrene packing peanuts, as they may require specialized recycling processes. By following these measures, you can promote responsible recycling of mailer boxes and minimize waste. Don’t forget to consult local recycling guidelines for specific instructions on recycling mailer boxes and the associated fillers, including the option for recycling polystyrene packing peanuts.

Junk credit cards/rewards cards: as part of mailers, companies often include plastic cards for special offers and promotions. These cards, typically made of polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVCA), pose challenges when it comes to recycling. It is important to remove these cards before recycling any paper products. While the paper components can be recycled, the plastic cards should be handled separately due to their limited recyclability. By removing these cards, you can ensure proper recycling of the paper materials while responsibly managing the plastic components.

Adhesives and plastic tape: When recycling cardboard boxes, it is important to remove any pressure-sensitive “packing tape” or attached packing slip sleeves. This type of tape typically has a backing made of polypropylene or polyester, which makes it unsuitable for recycling. Additionally, any adhesive residues used to keep mail folded or attach “special offer” credit cards should be peeled off and discarded in the trash. By removing these non-recyclable materials, you can ensure the cardboard boxes are ready for proper recycling and minimize contamination.


How to Recycle All the Different Types of Mail You Receive?

In the upcoming content, we will provide you with practical insights on effectively recycling the various types of mail you receive. Let’s start by discussing the types of mail that can be safely thrown away and recycled.

Bank statements

Bank statements and pre-approved credit card offers should be shredded before disposal, as they are time-sensitive and provide no benefit when saved. It is possible to opt for electronic delivery of bank statements, which can reduce monthly fees. Monthly bills, such as utility or credit card statements, can be shredded once reviewed for accuracy since they serve no further purpose. Credit card offers, if not needed, can be discarded without holding onto them. The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you to stop receiving pre-approved credit offers in the mail if desired. By following these guidelines, you can efficiently manage your mail and promote responsible recycling practices.

Neighborhood coupons and junk mail

Neighborhood coupons and junk mail including vacation offers, insurance solicitations, and more, can be safely discarded into the recycling bin unless you intend to use them for future savings. However, it is important to shred any junk mail containing personal information to reduce the risk of identity theft. The FTC also advises destroying documents with personal information to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. In the upcoming content, we will provide effective strategies to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive, helping you declutter your mailbox and protect your personal information.

Invitations and thank you notes:

In today’s digital age, it’s common to receive event invitations and thank you notes through online platforms like email and social media. However, there are still instances when you receive physical cards in your mailbox. The decision to keep or discard these items depends on personal sentiment and preferences. There’s no right or wrong answer. If you want to preserve the memory without taking up physical space, you can scan the note or invitation digitally.

Insurance policies:

When you obtain insurance coverage, the company typically sends you a copy of the full policy in the mail. While it’s crucial to keep copies of active policies, previous policies lose their validity once you sign and pay for a new one. Unless you intend to compare rates or coverages over time, holding onto copies of old insurance policies provides little value.

Medical bills:

Hold onto medical bills for one year before discarding them, as recommended by the FTC. However, if you’re in the midst of an insurance dispute related to a medical charge, you may need to retain those bills for a longer duration. Understanding the proper retention periods ensures you manage your mail effectively while complying with necessary document retention guidelines.


What About Junk Mail, Is Junk Mail Recyclable?

How To Recycle Paper Junk Mail Recycling Paper Junk Mail:

When it comes to letters, flyers, and various printed materials, most of them can be easily recycled by placing them in your recycling bin. Your recycling service provider will ensure that the paper is sent to a paper recycling company where it will be transformed into pulp for the production of new paper. However, there are a few exceptions to consider before tossing junk mail directly into the bin. If the mail contains plastic items like fake credit cards or sheets of return address labels, it’s important to open the envelope and remove those items for disposal in the trash. Additionally, if the junk mail contains pre-approved credit card offers or personal information, it is crucial to shred or destroy those items to protect against identity theft. It’s worth noting that shredding paper should be avoided unless necessary, as shredded paper poses challenges for recyclers. If you find yourself with shredded paper or prefer an alternative to recycling, consider adding it to your backyard compost bin, where it can contribute as a valuable “brown” material in the decomposition process of food and yard waste.

How To Recycle LightWeight CardBoard Junk Mail?

coupons, advertisements, and other mailers printed on lightweight cardboard, recycling is a viable option. This type of cardboard, which is slightly heavier than regular paper and often features a glossy finish, can be conveniently placed in your curbside recycling bin or taken to a designated recycling center. The process for recycling lightweight cardboard is similar to that of paper recycling. However, it’s important to note that unlike paper, lightweight cardboard should not be added to your home compost bin. By properly recycling lightweight cardboard junk mail, you contribute to reducing waste and promoting a more sustainable environment.

How To Recycle Envelopes That Hold Junk Mail?

the envelopes that hold junk mail, such as white, manila, or other paper envelopes, they can generally be recycled by placing them in your recycling bin along with other paper items. Even envelopes with small plastic windows are usually accepted in most curbside recycling programs, as long as the amount of plastic is minimal. It’s good news for those looking to recycle their mail without any hassle.

However, padded envelopes, which contain additional materials like plastic or cotton batting for added protection, present a different recycling challenge. Due to the larger amount of contaminating materials they contain, these padded envelopes are typically not recyclable through regular curbside recycling programs. It’s important to note that it is unlikely to receive junk mail in such padded envelopes.

By recycling paper envelopes appropriately, you contribute to reducing waste and supporting sustainable practices in the recycling process.

How To Recycle NewSprint Junk Mail?

Recycling newsprint junk mail is an easy and eco-friendly process. While it may be rare to receive junk mail printed on newsprint, many recycling programs accept this type of paper. If your community has a dedicated newspaper recycling program, simply bundle your newsprint junk mail with your other newspapers and drop them off at the designated collection point. By doing so, you actively contribute to the circular economy and promote sustainability in the paper recycling industry.


The Benefits of Mail Recycling:

Recycling mail offers numerous advantages for the environment and society. It helps conserve resources, reduces waste, saves energy, supports the economy, and protects the environment. By recycling mail, we contribute to a more sustainable future and leave a positive impact on the planet. It’s a simple and cost-effective way to make a difference and ensure a better world for future generations. So, by incorporating mail recycling into our daily routines, we can actively participate in environmental preservation, resource conservation, and the promotion of a circular economy. Together, let’s take action and make recycling a part of our everyday lives to create a greener and more sustainable world.

It seems simple enough, right?  You use the recycling bins at home, the movie theater, the park, the beach, the amusement park, they are virtually everywhere for your aluminum cans, glass bottles, and paper products.

You want to do your part in leaving the environment a better place and it’s a simple enough thing to do.  Recycling your everyday waste doesn’t take time out of your day and it doesn’t cost you any money, so it’s a win/win.

Did you know that when you use PostScan Mail for your mail that you can choose to have your unwanted mail recycled as well?  When you choose to have your unwanted mail recycled PostScan Mail will have Orange County Shredding an on-site document shredding and recycling service that comes out and shreds any recyclable material that could potentially have sensitive information, such as credit card statements, on-site and then they take it away to be recycled.

So, when using PostScan Mail you know that your unwanted mail is handled securely and then shredded and recycled in the most environmentally friendly way possible.  They even use energy efficient vehicles.

What are common mail items that should be shredded? Here are some general items that should definitely be shredded to avoid ID theft.

  • Driver’s License number
  • Social Security number
  • Phone Number
  • Address
  • Debit Card Number
  • Credit Card Number
  • Insurance Information
  • Bank Account Information
  • Passport Numbers
  • Employment Information

By recycling your mail you are freeing up space in our landfills for other trash that can’t be recycled.  Mail is paper, paper can be recycled and reused on average 7 times which saves water and trees.  It requires 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water to make just 1 ton of paper.

Schools are using recycled paper for the kids to write on so by recycling your mail you are helping to create recycled paper, which is helping kids and a really who can say they hate helping kids?

Card photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com


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