How might you recycle any of the packaging materials?


The United States commemorates National Recycling Day on November 15. Although you may not have been aware of this nationwide event previously, it represents a significant step toward sustainability. In 2018, the United States generated over 292.4 million tons of waste, which is roughly 4.9 pounds per individual per day. Only about 32% of this amount was recycled, while the remainder, nearly 200 million tons, ended up in landfills across the country.


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When it comes to packaging waste specifically, recycling rates are slightly higher at approximately 53.9% of approximately 80 million tons, but this still leaves a substantial amount of waste in local landfills. Clearly, there is room for development across the board when it comes to recycling, but it can be difficult to know what and how to recycle various packaging materials. Therefore, we will discuss three of the most common packaging types and how to recycle them.

Recyclability of Foam Packaging

Foam packaging materials, such as takeout containers and packing peanuts, are ubiquitous, but their prevalence is declining due to the perception that they are less environmentally friendly than materials such as paper. However, did you know that foam is recyclable? Polystyrene foam, also known as expanded polystyrene (EPS) or Foam #6, is a thermoplastic that can be recycled repeatedly at one of the more than 200 foam recycling drop-off locations in the United States. These locations will convert EPS into granules for future use.

How to Recycle Paper-Based Containers

Paper is widely regarded as one of the most environmentally friendly packaging materials because it can be recycled so easily. Typically, paper can be placed directly in the recycling receptacle at home and then recycled weekly at the curb. It is clear from this ease of use why paper packaging has such an excellent reputation for being environmentally friendly. The sustainability of items such as paper mailers, kraft void fills, paperboard containers, and corrugated cartons is assured. When the time comes to recycle your paper packaging, simply locate the curbside or public recycling receptacles and programs in your city.

How to Recycle Packaging Made of Plastic

Plastic films and polyethylene (Poly) bags:

These plastic packaging materials can be recycled, whether it’s the poly bag or mailer that your most recent online purchase arrived in or the mass of stretch film that was used to encase the pallets that just arrived at your warehouse. Typically, you can bring poly bags and films to your local grocery store and place them in the front-facing receptacles that are clearly labeled.

Just ensure that all food refuse has been removed from the plastic and that no biodegradable plastics have been included. Call your jurisdiction to inquire about any additional recycling facility-specific instructions.

The Remaining Plastics:

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET) — PETE and PET plastics are widely accepted in curbside recycling programs, as long as they contain no food or other debris. Similar to PP, ensure that all capitals have been discarded unless otherwise specified.

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) — High-Density Polyethylene plastics are typically entirely recyclable through the typical curbside program. This does not account for thinner materials such as poly bags, but as stated previously, these can generally be brought to your local grocery store.

Polyvinyl Chloride (P or PVC) — Unfortunately, it is very difficult to recycle this type of plastic packaging. Nonetheless, if you’re determined to make it happen, contact your city’s waste department to see if it can be brought to a nearby recycling center.

LDPE – Low-Density Polyethylene LDPE plastics are more difficult to dispose of through curbside recycling, though some municipalities do permit it. Typically, you’ll need to dispose of these materials with your regular garbage.

Some curbside recycling programs accept Polypropylene (PP) plastics, but not all. This material is frequently used for food containers, so if your location permits it, remove all food residue and dispose of any lids before recycling.

Polystyrene (PS) — The majority of recycling programs do not accept PS in rigid plastic form, but there is positive news. Typically, this can be substituted for PET, which is more recyclable.

Other Plastics — The plastic packaging materials listed above are the most commonly used in the United States. If it is not on this list, it will likely be difficult to dispose of through standard curbside recycling. Call the waste department in your city or county if you have any inquiries about a particular substance.

Packing cases

Cardboard crates are the simplest option. They are flattened and then recycled with paper products. Ensure they are kept spotless and dry. Cardboard that is moldy, oily, or soiled with food should not be recycled. Like refrigerated food boxes, cardboard or paperboard that appears to be lined with a plastic-like substance should not be recycled. For more information on cardboard recycling, click here.

Postal Bags or Envelopes

If envelopes are not enclosed with plastic, they can be recycled with other paper. Plastic envelopes and bubble mailers should be recyclable with plastic film at designated drop-off locations if they are made entirely of plastic (not a combination of plastics). Envelopes for shipping composed of paper with a plastic bubble wrap interior or other mixed materials should not be recycled. Click here for additional information on how to recycle plastic mailing envelopes and shipping containers.

Peanuts and foam blocks for packaging

Polystyrene (also known as Styrofoam) is difficult to recycle because it consists primarily of air and cannot be recycled into the more valuable plastics manufacturers desire. A few communities have recycling options for polystyrene, but the vast majority do not. However, some shipping-intensive businesses may accept packaging peanuts for reuse. Click here for more information on Styrofoam recycling. Or, see below for information on how to recycle with TerraCycle.

Paper Stuffing, Boxes, and Blocks

Any paper that is in whole sheets and merely crumpled in the box to cushion and protect your package can be recycled with the rest of the paper. The same applies to honeycomb cardboard packaging, paper cartons, and pulp blocks that are used to stabilize and secure your shipment inside the box, provided that all of these items are made exclusively of paper and paper pulp. If the materials are combined, for instance if they appear to have a plastic or metal lining, they should not be recycled unless they can be completely separated.


How might you recycle any of the packaging materials?

The United States commemorates National Recycling Day on November 15. Although you may not have been aware of this nationwide event previously, it represents a significant step toward sustainability.

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