How to Recycle Sugar Packets - Sugar Being Added to Coffee

Can you even recycle sugar packets? This is a thought I had while preparing my coffee a few years ago.

Well, they are made from paper, so I thought they definitely should be recyclable. But are they really?

How to Recycle Sugar Packets Picture of Coffee Mug

I spoke with Darby Hoover of the National Resources Defense Council, and asked her how to recycle sugar packets. She said, “…these are not ideal to put in a curbside recycling bin for a couple of reasons: for one, they are likely food-contaminated, and food-contaminated paper should not go into the recycling. Another challenge with recycling sugar packets, which is true for any very small piece of paper, is that it’s hard to sort them at the recycling facility since they are so small they may escape both mechanical and human-powered sorting systems.”

I was actually taken aback. I figured it’s paper, so it must be recyclable, right? And Darby clearly is an authority on the subject, but I double-checked anyway, and the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment has said that most of these packets are actually lined with a small wax to keep moisture out, so they are neither recyclable nor compostable. My mind is blown.

*There is a rumor on the internet that Equal/Splenda sugar packets are actually just 100% paper and can be composted. But I can’t seem to get a confirmation on that. Will update if anyone gets back to me. Update: Not paper. They have a plastic coating. You can’t compost these either, according to Harvard.

I hope that helps you on your journey toward being a more conscientious recycler. I find all of the information on the internet to be contradictory about this subject, which is why I took the time to speak to an expert. Again, your city may have different policies, so it’s always good to check with their website first.

Questions? Leave them in the comments, or else feel free to reach out to me directly!

How to Recycle Sugar Packets


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!

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