What Kind of Paper can be Recycled?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Many different types of paper can be recycled. Some paper is more complicated to recycle because it blends several elements. For example, envelopes with plastic windows may not be recyclable. Paper with plastic coatings also may prove a challenge. Your normal, ordinary household paper can be recycled, but you should always check with your local recycling company about exclusions.

Newspapers can be recycled.
Newspapers can be recycled.

The following types of paper can be recycled with ease:

Cardboard can easily be recycled.
Cardboard can easily be recycled.

Copy paper can be recycled easily.
Copy paper can be recycled easily.
  • Cardboard
  • Construction paper
  • Newspaper
  • Magazines (remove staples)
  • Circular advertisements in magazines
  • Computer paper
  • Copy paper
A bag made of recycled paper.
A bag made of recycled paper.

Other types of paper can be recycled with a little work. For instance, if you have envelopes with plastic windows, you can cut the windows out, and then recycle the envelopes. Be wary of junk mail, especially if you shred it. Much of its paper is recyclable, but you may need to pull out things like blank plastic cards or plastic coated paper.

Paper cups with no plastic coatings — and no lids — can be recycled.
Paper cups with no plastic coatings — and no lids — can be recycled.

It gets easier to figure out which paper can be recycled by using recycle-friendly paper as much as possible. Instead of buying “virgin” paper, made of plant products, look for paper that has already been recycled. Also, when buying paper cups, you can look for those with no plastic coating so they can be recycled.

Paper made from products like corn can be recycled as well. This is a relatively new form of paper that resembles foam. Instead of the non-recyclable foam products, you can generally toss corn-based containers straight into your paper-recycling bin. Chinese food containers also can be recycled as long as you remove their metal holders.

If you can’t recycle a certain type of paper, consider reusing it. Photographic paper used in printers can be used to print more than one picture. Also, schools often look for extra paper supplies for art projects. You should let the school know whether the paper can be recycled, since leftovers typically end up in paper recycle bins.

You can encourage greater use of paper that can be recycled by attempting to purchase only recycled or recyclable items, and by writing to businesses you frequent that don’t use recyclable paper. By recycling paper, large industrial companies can help minimize the use of new paper and create less debt to the environment.

Some companies respond well to consumer requests to use recyclable paper. This has been the case with many food companies, many of which now feature cups made of recyclable paper. Given the huge numbers of people who frequent such restaurants on a daily basis, a company’s choice to use recyclable paper can prove popular and responsible.

The plastic windows must be removed from envelopes before they can be recycled.
The plastic windows must be removed from envelopes before they can be recycled.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Questions about the recyclability of specific materials should be directed to your local/specific recycling hauler, as policies vary from business to business and market to market. Sometimes businesses won't have the machines or manpower to sort unique materials. Other times there is not a regional market available to sell the sorted materials.


So can credit cards or other cards be recycled after you cut them up or shred them?


When we first started putting our recycled products in a recycle bin I wondered if we could include the advertisements that came with the newspaper. With that paper being shiny and slick I didn't know if we could throw it in the bin with everything else or not.

I called the company and they said these inserts were OK to recycle. I was glad to hear this because I rarely look through these ads and am glad to know that paper can be recycled and used over again. Otherwise it would seem like a lot of waste that was filling up the landfill.


@anon172434-- This is the first I have heard that the envelopes with plastic windows can't be recycled unless you cut out the plastic part. I have been putting these in the recycle bin for years. Now I wonder if I am supposed to be doing that or not. I think if I had to cut out the plastic of all those envelopes I would just throw them out with the regular trash.


Regarding envelopes with plastic windows, I live in Minnesota and we've been able to recycle these with paper for years. I'd say to check with your recycling provider before assuming you can't recycle these.


No, you should be able to recycle paper twice (unless the recycled paper has had some time of plastic coated onto in, which is rare). They may be confused with the old printer rule: once a page has gone through a laser printer, you shouldn't send it through again. Then again, I'm not sure if that's quite accurate either.


The business I work at claims it doesn't recycle its paper because its already recycled and you can't recycle it again. Is this true?


Can paper that has been colored on with crayon, marker, or paint (washable) be recycled? What about receipts?


I found this quite informative. I just sent off an email to a company I use frequently that uses wax or plastic coated cardboard. The recycle facility here in Portland does not want this as it clogs up their machines. I was appalled to find this out because I have put these in the recycle bin for YEARS. sigh.

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