Junk mail is like your least favorite relatives around the holidays: It just keeps showing up year after year even if you wish it would go away.
If junk mail is cluttering your mailbox and your life, the best thing you can do is remove your name from mailing lists so you do not receive it at all. However, even the best services will not stop every piece of junk mail, which means you need to find a good way to recycle whatever you end up getting.
The good news is that all junk mail is made of paper, which is a staple for recycling programs. Pretty much everyone who participates in a curbside program or has a recycling center in their community should be able to recycle junk mail with ease.
We offer advice on recycling several common types of junk mail: regular paper, lightweight cardboard, envelopes, newsprint, catalogs, and glossy ads. There are a couple nuances to handling junk mail, so consider these tips before chucking everything straight into your recycling can.
How to decrease the amount of junk mail you receiveThere are several great resources out there to help you cut down on the amount of junk mail you receive. The Federal Trade Commission and CalRecycle, California’s recycling and waste management agency, both have extensive articles that give instructions for removing your name from junk mail lists.
How to recycle paper junk mailLetters, flyers and numerous other items come to you printed on regular old paper. It is fine to place it in your recycling bin; your recycling service provider will get it to a paper recycling company, which will reduce it to pulp and use it to make new paper.
There are a couple cases where you should not just toss junk mail straight in your bin, however. If a junk mail item contains plastic (such as fake credit cards) or sheets of return address labels (like the ones charities send hoping that you will in turn mail in a donation), open the envelope and remove those items. They will need to go in your trashcan.
If your junk mail contains pre-approved credit card offers and other items with your personal information, make sure you shred them (or otherwise destroy them) so identity thieves cannot collect them and use your information for their own nefarious purposes. However, please do not shred paper items unless absolutely necessary. Shredded paper is harder for recyclers to handle.
If you do end up shredding some paper, or just want to do something with it besides putting it in your recycling bin, try dumping it in your backyard compost bin. The paper provides a good “brown” material that will help the food and yard waste break down.
How to recycle lightweight cardboard junk mailCoupons and many other advertisements often arrive at your door printed on lightweight cardboard. This material, which is heavier than traditional paper and often has a glossy finish, can be placed in your curbside recycling bin or taken to a recycling center. The only difference between lightweight cardboard and paper? It is best not to put the cardboard in your home compost bin.
How to recycle envelopes that hold junk mailWhite, manila and other types of paper envelopes can be placed in your recycling bin along with the rest of your paper. Even envelopes that have those little plastic windows are no problem. Pretty much every curbside recycling program will take envelopes as long as they only have a minuscule amount of plastic.
Padded envelopes, which contain plastic or cotton batting, are a different animal all together. Because they contain a large amount of contaminating material, they typically cannot be recycled. However, it is unlikely you will receive junk mail in those.
How to recycle newsprint junk mailIt is rare to find junk mail printed on newsprint, but there are a few retailers that do it. Some organizations still put newsletters on newsprint, too. Virtually every recycling program will accept newsprint, which is easy to recycle. If your community has a program that focuses on recycling newspapers (perhaps as a fundraiser for a local nonprofit or school) bundle your newsprint in with your papers and drop them off there.
How to recycle catalogsThousands of companies put out catalogs offering clothing, jewelry, electronics, gadgets, toys and everything else you might want to purchase. They range from tiny to “kill-a-whole-forest” size, and if you want them, they can be a great resource. If you do not want them, they can be a real nuisance.
Almost every curbside recycling program will accept catalogs. If your community has a program focused on recycling magazines, check to see if they are interested in your catalogs. Catalogs are also a great source of pictures for collage projects. If you have kids or artists in your life they may be able to put them to good (re)use.