Can you recycle padded envelopes?

  • Date: June 16, 2022

With the use of online shopping soaring, the environmental impact of packaging has gained interest. Padded envelopes are one of the most common packaging solutions that allow companies to send their smaller items from A to B.  These tend to contain two materials – a plastic bubble-wrap inner and paper outer. Although not always easy, if separated, these materials can be recycled individually. More eco-friendly padded envelopes are also available. Although, not often used by retailers, they are fully recyclable. And at the curbside too! Here we will take a closer look…   

What are padded envelopes made from?

Knowing what materials are used to make an item gives us clues as to whether it is readily recyclable or not. Padded envelopes, generally, come in two types – paper with a bubble wrap inner and those that are made with 100% paper.  The mixed paper/plastic type is, by far, the most common type that you will encounter.

Can you recycle plastic variety of padded envelopes?

Standard recycling centers have difficulties recycling items that are made from two or more materials. They don’t have the facilities or resources to separate the different materials, so they are not able to offer this service.

This does not mean that you can’t recycle them at all though – elements are possibly salvageable. It just involves some extra steps. Separate the bubble plastic from the paper. Depending on the brand, and how well they can be separated, the paper may be in a fit state to add to the curbside recycling. If any plastic remains on the paper, the envelope must be popped in the trash.

This leaves us with the plastic bubble wrap part. This can, in lots of areas, be recycled alongside other soft plastics such as plastic carrier bags. There are typically bins within the larger grocery stores that cater for this type of recycling. A bit more effort than your curbside recycling, but it diverts it from potentially hundreds of years in landfill.

Can you recycle the paper variety of padded envelopes?

Envelopes that are padded using a paper/cardboard ‘honeycomb’ are much easier to deal with in an eco-friendly way. These are, generally, recyclable in standard curbside collections – but, as always, check your local recycling center if you are unsure. Like any paper or cardboard, you cannot recycle it if it has been water-logged/wet. The trash is the best place for it in this case, or the compost pile if you have one.  

If you are green-fingered, you can even add them as a carbon-rich ‘brown’ compost ingredient. Ensure that you rip them into small-ish pieces before mixing them into the pile. This gives the bacteria, and other microbes, more surface area to munch on and will speed up the process a little.  Paper and cardboard items are not the most nutritious composting item out there. However, in addition to providing some carbon, they also help give the pile extra structure which allows air to flow freely.

How can you re-use padded envelopes?

Before you opt for recycling, you should try and re-use the envelope. If you Google how to re-use padded envelopes, you will be greeted with lots of ideas such as growing plant pots or using it for insulation. Any way you can divert items from landfill is a bonus. But, here we like to keep it as simple as possible – because let’s face it, it is much more likely to happen!

The best way to re-use padded envelopes is for their intended, original purpose – packaging. There is a reason these are used as packaging to begin with; they are great at cushioning fragile items for postage. They can be used many, many times for this purpose. Just ensure you cover the previous postage details/barcodes etc.

The bottom line

Re-using your padded envelope is the best option in the first instance. When it comes to the end of its usable life it can sometimes be recycled – this is totally dependent on what it is made from. Those made with mixed materials must be separated and recycled individually, but in some cases this is not as easy as it sounds! Padded envelopes made with 100% paper, on the other hand, are fully recyclable in curbside collections and can even be composted. Hopefully, as more retailers become eco-aware they will opt for these types of padded envelopes.