How to Recycle Junk Mail - Mailbox overfilling with mail

I can’t tell you how much I loathe junk mail. It is no longer practical in this day and age. It’s expensive. The awareness component is minimal at best, and those tens of thousands of dollars might be better spent toward company philanthropy programs, digital advertising, or—I don’t know—investing the money in employees.

A Glance and a Toss:

Is your routine similar to mine? I go down to get the mail, I glance at laminated postcards for about 2 seconds, and I promptly throw them into my building’s recycling bin. Actual footage, below:

Postcards and catalogs are easy to figure out, but what about envelopes with plastic windows? Good news! It turns out you can toss those into your curbside recycling bin as well.

It’s Complicated.

But what about more complicated mailers? I’ve always kept myself from throwing envelopes that contain cardboard/plastic card inserts right into the bin (you know, the AAA envelopes you get with an ID card them, or fake credit cards, etc). Why? Because I don’t know what to do with these.

Well, it turns out that it’s a good thing I have been holding the more complicated mailers back from the bin! Lisa Disbrow, Spokesperson of Waste Management of Illinois, Inc. says that while “junk mail is accepted in curbside recycling programs, gift and credit cards are not accepted.” Basically, this means you’ll have to open everything that feels like it has a plastic card inside, discard the plastic, and then you may place the envelope and paper into the bin (the plastic piece will, unfortunately, end up in the trash).

Security Concerns?

And what about keeping your private information secure? My research says it’s smart to tear up anything with confidential information, or shred it, and place that into your compost, or your trash. While some curbside bin programs accept shredded paper, my research has shown that the majority do not. In fact, there may be a specific drop-off center near you solely for shredded paper. I asked Lisa Disbrow about this, and her response was, “Some recycling facilities will accept shredded paper if it is placed in a Kraft bag. Check with your local municipality or county solid waste administrator.”

In case you’re wondering, a Kraft Bag is a paper bag. It has nothing to do with Macaroni & Cheese.

Have I answered all of your questions about recycling junk mail? Probably not, so let me know in the comments.

How to Recycle Junk Mail


Hi, I'm MJ, a recovering aspirational recycler who started HowToRecycle to share her journey with others. I kindly invite you to share your knowledge with me, talk about issues that are bothering you, tell me where I’m wrong (you know you want to), and help me discover new things!