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The List

1–8 of Your New Office Supply Recycling Guide

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You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. We field readers’ questions about which common office supplies can be recycled.


It’s reassuring to see that so many offices are hopping on board the eco-responsible bandwagon, cutting down on paper usage, providing ceramic coffee mugs in the break room, and installing energy-efficient lighting.


Here at Recyclebank, we get a lot of questions from our members about recycling in the workplace — be it a home office or an office in town — so this week’s The List is your new office supply guide. We’ve got answers to your questions, and we’ll clear up confusion as to the most responsible way to dispose of office waste.


1. Pens and Markers: Pens and markers, because they are made of different components, can’t be recycled through a traditional recycling program. Luckily, Terracycle, in partnership with Newell Brands, has a brigade to collect and recycle writing instruments. Collect used ballpoint pens, markers, mechanical pencils, highlighters, and their caps, and ship them to Terracycle, where they’ll be broken down and recycled. And when you shop for new pens, be sure to choose ones made from recycled plastic.


2. Binders and Folders: Member Ed R. wanted to know where he could recycle plastic binders. Because plastic 3-ring binders are made of a combination of materials, they are not easy to recycle. If you’re dedicated, you can cut up the binder and separate the plastic, cardboard liner, and metal spine and rings, and recycle the cardboard liner along with your paper recycling. To save time, take used binders to participating Office Depot locations, where they are collected for recycling. For future purchases, consider choosing Naked Binders, which are 100 percent recyclable three ring binders. Heavy paper folders and file folders are recyclable with curbside recyclables, and plastic folders.


3. Padded Envelopes: Member Lori H. wanted to know if padded envelopes are recyclable. The all-plastic envelopes can usually be recycled along with plastic film — not curbside, though. They need to be dropped off at a collection point, like a bin in the front of a grocery store or pharmacy. Paper envelopes with padded paper liners can also be recycled along with other paper. Paper envelopes that contain plastic bubble liners pose a different issue. If these materials cannot be separated easily, they can’t be put in curbside recycling. Consider collecting these mailers to reuse or repurpose.


4. Paper Clips and Staples: Member Cindy G. asked if paper clips are recyclable, and many members have asked about staples as well. You don’t need to remove either from your mail or documents, as they won’t interfere with paper recycling. Paper clips are easy enough to save and reuse, and local schools may even accept large amounts as donations, which they can use for arts and crafts. If you’re building up a significant enough collection of either paper clips or staples, and just need to get them out of the office, check local scrap metal facilities to see if they’ll accept them.


5. Business Envelopes and Mailers: Leslie H. asked about recycling window envelopes. Your more standard envelopes — for or from bills and unsolicited mail, and with or without windows — are all recyclable with your other paper recycling. The windows in envelopes don’t act as contaminants, because, similar to paper clips and staples, they get separated during the cleaning process at paper mills.


6. Shredded Paper: “Which bin do I put shredded paper in?” asked member Diann F. “The trash bin or the recycle bin?” It turns out that once it’s shredded, paper can’t be recycled into high-grade paper anymore. It also might not be accepted by your company’s recycling vendor, so be sure to check with them before putting it in the recycling bin. If you need to shred sensitive documents, consider sending them to a document company that specializes in shredding and recycling confidential documents. Or, use shredded paper as packing material or toss it in your compost bin. For more on recycling shredded paper, check out Because You Asked: How Do I Recycle Shredded Paper?


7. Colored Paper: Member Kathy K. asked, “Can dark colored paper like file folders and construction paper be recycled?” Unfortunately, the rules on this vary widely. The deepest and most-brightly colored papers, particularly fluorescent ones, can taint a batch of white paper during the paper-making process (just like a red sock in a load of white laundry will turn the whole load pink), but some facilities are able to work around this. Check with your local hauler, and if it’s not recyclable, find another use for it — such as using the reverse side as scrap paper — and then compost it. Paper that is not dyed throughout (tearing it will reveal that it’s still white in the middle) is more universally okay to recycle, though, as are all lighter and pastel color papers. If possible, encourage your office-mates to use white or lighter-colored paper.


8. Sticky Notes: Norman was one of many members who have asked about sticky notes. The good news is that, in most areas, you can recycle sticky notes along with the rest of your paper recycling. The adhesive comes out in the recycling process, and most of the colors are not so bright as to interfere with the process either.



What do you do with your old office supplies? Share your workplace’s recycling success stories in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more