Activist sorting paper waste

Recycling Paper 101

Even in our digital world today, paper still plays a central role. Just think about how easy it is to order take-out food or buy and ship a gift online with the tap of your finger. At the rate we’re going, Canada should make around 9.2 million metric tons of paper in 2024. That’s a lot of trees.

There is a lot we can do to make a difference.

Recycling one tonne of paper is equal to saving around 17 trees.

While paper recycling might seem straightforward, with so many paper types to consider, it can be difficult to determine what should be tossed in the bin. To help you understand some of the key points, we’ve put together this handy guide.

Composting and reuse are also great ways to help reduce the amount of paper going to landfills so be sure to to explore all options before resorting to recycling alone.

It’s also important to consider that different municipalities have different recycling systems. While the tips provided here are generally applicable, you should always verify with your local recycling facilities.

How should paper look before it’s recycled?

  1. Clean, dry, and stain-free — Even a piece of paper with a coffee stain is non-recyclable.
  2. Unlined and non-coated — Many to-go paper plates and coffee cups have plastic lining to stop food and liquid from leaking through. Butcher paper is coated in plastic, wax paper in paraffin wax, and parchment paper in silicone.
  3. Folded or flattened — Make sure to disassemble and flatten large cardboard boxes. Avoid crumpling paper sheets as recycling facilities often don’t accept those!
  4. Larger than a 2-inch square — Unless it’s in a plastic bag, loose shredded paper is not recyclable.

To help you recognize recyclable and non-recyclable paper, here are some examples:

Some Recyclable Paper Types

1. Cardboard — This includes cardboard boxes, inserts, and box-board packaging, clean pizza boxes, cereal boxes, shoe boxes, egg cartons, paper towel rolls, juices, and milk cartons. Frozen food boxes are often coated in plastic and are not recyclable. Recyclable egg cartons are a kind of molded, cardboard-like paper in grey shades. Any that are made of clear plastic materials or foam are non-recyclable.

2. Newspaper, magazines, catalogues, phone books and flyers — Even if they’re glossy, these are recyclable. But before you toss away newspaper in the recycling, try making DIY seed starters with them using this Newspaper Seed Starters craft.

3. Envelopes — Before you toss these, remove any plastic windows.

4. Store receipts — Check if they are plain paper by rubbing them with a coin. If they discolor when you do, then they may be chemically treated and can’t be recycled.

5. Paper bags and kraft paper — Since they’re unbleached and made from wood pulp, these are safe to recycle.

6. Printer paper — Any writing, ink, or other printing on these is fine.

Some Non-recyclable Paper Types

1. Dirty or soaked paper material – This includes greasy pizza boxes, cardboard left out in the rain, used napkins, paper towels, and tissues. Anything that gets in touch with bodily fluids is considered contaminated.

2. Greeting cards with glitter, ribbons or other mixed materials — If it’s 100% paper, then it’s recyclable!

3. Books in hardcover and paperback — Special glue used in the bookbinding process makes these nonrecyclable.

4. Decorated tissue paper — Some tissue paper is recyclable depending on your juristiction’s laws. However, tissue covered in foil or glitter is not safe to recycle.

5. Dryer sheets — Scents and a variety of chemicals are often in these.

6. Wax paper — This paper type contains chemicals such as petroleum.

7. Paper cups – More often than not, these have a plastic or wax lining.

8. Photographs – These contain chemical ingredients.

Some Compostable Paper Types

Before you throw non-recyclable paper in the trash, check to see if it’s compostable! Most types of paper break down easily in the soil. If you’re unsure, look for a certified compostable label that reads ASTM D6868, ASTM D6400, or PLA.

1. Seed paper — This unique eco-friendly paper is made from recycled paper waste and is embedded with seeds so it’s made to be planted in the soil. Instead of sending it to the recycling bin, you can grow wildflowers or herbs from it!

2. Bagasse food packaging & plates — This plant-based material is gathered from sugar cane and is recognized for its light brown shade. The compostable to-go plates and bowls at restaurants are typically made of bagasse.

3. Greasy pizza boxes — Tip: Tear off the clean parts for recycling, then put the rest in with your compost!

4. Soiled napkins and paper towels — Since compost is turning into dirt eventually anyways, light food or stains are no problem.

5. Shredded paper — Tip: Mix the shredded paper in well with your mulch. This will help airflow and prevent any build-ups.

There you have it! A quick guide to some common paper types you can and can’t recycle. Be sure to check out these resources below which will give you more information about local recycling rules in your state or province:

You can buy seed paper sheets for eco-friendly papercraft projects from Botanical PaperWorks. We have a variety of seed options, including wildflower, herb and veggie, and over 25 seed paper colors. Join our mailing list to receive emails with freebies, projects, coupons, green living tips, and decor ideas and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest


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