How You Can (and Should) Recycle Mail

The holiday season is a time of joy, family, sugar cookies and winter fun, but it's also peak season for household waste. In fact, garbage can increase by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, adding an additional 1 million tons of waste — much of it from mail, packaging and holiday wrapping. As we search for the perfect cards and gifts to send our favorite people, it’s a good time to look at the do’s and don’ts of mail recycling so we can make this the greenest holiday season yet.

It’s important to remember that recycling policies vary for every community, so be sure to check your local regulations to avoid wishcycling. However, mail that is primarily made of paper can usually be recycled through your normal curbside program. This includes newspapers, magazines, advertising mailers, letters, catalogs and bills. You may want to shred bills and other sensitive documents to protect your info. Or better yet, sign up for paperless billing. While it doesn’t hurt to remove plastic envelope windows, the pulping process at paper recycling plants will typically filter those out, as well as paper clips and staples.

When it comes to holiday cards, plain paper stock cards can go in your recycling bin. Cards with photo paper, metallic embossing or glitter can’t be recycled. Keep this in mind when holiday card shopping, so your seasonal sentiments stay sustainable.

Cardboard boxes, including shipping boxes, product packaging, shoe boxes and gift boxes, can usually be recycled with your curbside program. The main thing you’ll need to do is break them down for collection. Paper tape is fine to leave on, as is a single strip of plastic tape. If the box has a lot of plastic tape on it though, you’ll want to peel off what you can and throw the tape out in the regular trash.

Before recycling your boxes, consider if they can be reused for your own shipping or storage needs, or if you can donate them to a local business or neighbor. Recycling is important, but upcycling and repurposing can divert waste by giving these items a new life.

While bubble wrap, poly mailers and plastic air pillows aren’t usually recyclable curbside, many grocery stores and pharmacies nationwide accept these soft plastics for recycling. Remove any labels, then head over to to find a drop-off location in your area.

Typical white packing peanuts are plastic and never biodegrade, so they aren’t recyclable. Most cities don’t accept them, but you’ll want to check your local program to be sure. If you have space to store them, you can collect packing peanuts and save them for your own shipping needs. You can also contact local shipping companies to see if they’ll accept them for reuse.

Paper padded mailers are recyclable and can go out in the bin with your cardboard boxes, but paper mailers with bubble wrap padding are not. Save them for reuse if you can, or they go in the trash.

4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper is produced in the U.S. every year, and about half ends up in landfills. However, there are several ways to be more eco-friendly with how you use gift wrap during the holidays and beyond.

  • Recycle plain paper gift wrap with your mixed paper.
  • Buy wrapping paper made from recycled content or consider using gift bags that are easy to repurpose. Wrapping paper with glitter, foil, laminated coating or other festive embellishments can’t be recycled.
  • Keep a box handy when opening presents to save any gift wrap that can be reused in the future. You can also collect any bows and ribbons for reuse, which aren’t recyclable.
  • Get creative. Newspapers and paper grocery bags make excellent eco-friendly wrapping paper alternatives, you can even add your own decorations with non-toxic markers for a festive flair.

However you celebrate the season, recycling can help you keep it eco-friendly, even when the packages pile up. A greener tomorrow starts with the steps we take year-round, like switching to 100% clean energy.

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