Can you recycle mail envelopes – and other types of mail?

  • Date: May 14, 2022

Despite a growing number of us going ‘paper-less’, each day millions of pieces of mail gets delivered to homes across the country. From junk mail to online purchases, they come in a broad range of different packaging – some being eligible for the recycling bin, others not. Often mail just gets piled up as we simply do not know what to do with it. Here we will look at the main types of mail envelopes, and other packaging, and whether they can be recycled or not. Local variations apply!

Standard envelopes (with or without stamps)

Ordinary envelopes that carry your dreaded bills and most other mail can generally be recycled in most areas – as can the actual letter inside if it is just paper. It should be noted, however, that if you shred your paper, to stop others getting access to your confidential information, it may not be accepted by your local recycle center.  Some centers do recycle it, but they may require it to be placed in a particular type of bag for collection. If your area does not accept it don’t worry – it makes great material for a rabbit hutch, bulks out expensive cat litter and can be used as a cheap filler for your parcels!

Mail can even be recycled with the stamps on. Stamps can also be removed and donated to charity. They can sell them on – generally to dealers and crafters – to fund their projects. Those that are leftover will get recycled, making it eco-friendly and charitable all-in-one….

Other things that come through the door including junk mail, magazines, newspapers and leaflets can also be recycled. Don’t worry about the staples in the magazines, the recycling center will take care of that. Just make sure you remove any plastic wrapping from your magazines and bumper Sunday newspaper editions!

Envelopes with plastic address windows

In most cases, the plastic address window can be recycled – it does not cause any significant problem to the recycling plant. When being pulped, components such as the address window are filtered out. If you would prefer though, you can easily remove the plastic window at home before putting in the recycling bin, but it is not strictly necessary.  

Bubble-wrap/padded envelopes

Padded envelopes – also know as ‘jiffy bags’ – unfortunately can’t be recycled in their original form. They are considered a composite material as they are made up of different materials such as plastic and paper. You can take the envelope apart and potentially recycle the constituent parts; however this can be difficult. Some padded envelopes also have a coating – they aren’t standard paper – and some have a plastic outer. All these factors make padded envelopes a tricky customer when it comes to being planet friendly!  

The easiest way to avoid these going straight to landfill is to re-use them for another purpose – overwrite the address and resend it or use it for a household purpose such storing letters.

Cardboard boxes/envelopes

Carboard envelopes folders – like the ones that some small Amazon purchases come in – can be recycled. Although, it is recommended that any tape be removed. Much like padded envelopes, they are great to re-use before they head to the recycle bin – saving money on your own mailing supplies. What’s not to like?!

Like carboard envelopes, boxes can be recycled or re-used. To recycle, simply collapse it down and put it in with your normal curbside recycling. Although boxes can be recycled, watch out for the filler material. Some are easily recycled, like packing paper, whilst others like packing peanuts, are not. Eco-friendly versions of packing peanuts are available, but most are made from EPS (expanded polystyrene). These are generally not accepted by curbside recycling programs and can be in landfill for a looooong time!

The bottom line

Most mail envelopes can be recycled, stamps included. The main thing to consider is if the envelope or packaging contains plastic – if so, it is less likely to be easily recyclable, as is the case with padded envelopes and packing peanuts. If in doubt, check with your local recycling agency – recycling rules and capabilities are different from region to region. If they cannot be recycled why not re-use it? You will save some money whilst saving the planet!