Recycling paper - is it helpful to remove plastic windows from envelopes
September 4, 2019 6:30 PM   Subscribe

For years I've spent time doing this and probably it's not needed; almost certainly any outfit who recycles paper encounters plastic windows in envelopes every day. But if I can make it easier/better at all I'm all about it. I put the plastic junk into my trash, which just goes to landfill, which isn't comforting either; maybe people who recycle paper also recycle the plastic junk they come across? Any insight(s) into this?
posted by dancestoblue to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I do this too, I've always worried that otherwise it would contaminate the recycling. I also pull the plastic out of the top of tissue boxes before I squash them for recycling. I worry these bits get stuck in machines or whatever. For example, shredded paper shouldn't (usually) go in recycling, the little shreddies can gum up the machine.
posted by kitten magic at 6:53 PM on September 4, 2019

The type of plastic used in envelope windows isn’t typically recyclable, so you can rest easy about sending it directly to landfill.

As for saving yourself the labour, my municipality has a website and a phone app where we can look up what is recyclable in our area, and how those items should be prepped or bundled before being put out for pickup. Maybe your area has something like that too? In my area they used to request we tear out the plastic out of envelopes (and remove staples and tape from paper, and wash plastic containers), but they don’t anymore.

For what it’s worth I still tear out the plastic in evelopes and tissue boxes even though it’s not requested here any more.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:56 PM on September 4, 2019

Do you have a separate paper recycling system? I'm sorry to say that if the municipality is doing single-stream recycling (most are in the US -- 80% of cities collect recyclables in a single bin), the paper is probably too contaminated even if you tear out the window.
Recycling contamination has a direct impact in the quality of recyclables entering the commodity markets. For example, when foods or liquids are placed in a recycling container they will ultimately saturate tons and tons of otherwise good paper and cardboard that they come into contact with. When paper and cardboard loses its quality, it also loses its ability to be recycled. It becomes trash...

Today, the average contamination rate among communities and businesses sits at around 25%. That means that roughly 1 in 4 items placed in a recycling container is actually not recyclable through curbside programs, and this creates enormous problems for the recycling economy.
(Waste Management, 2018)
Given how China (the main market for paper and plastic via U.S. recycling) has changed their policy and now reject recycled materials with more than 0.5% contamination rate, this has rendered materials coming from single-stream collection unsellable.
As of January, Philadelphia was sending half of the recyclables it collects straight to the incinerator. Minneapolis stopped accepting black plastics. Marysville, Michigan, will no longer accept eight of 11 categories of items (including glass, newspaper, and mixed paper) for curbside recycling, in order to cut costs. (CityLab, 2019)
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:26 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

It's not bad to remove the window, but it appears that in most places you probably don't have to remove it as it will be filtered out during the recycling process. I believe the plastic is then diverted to landfill.

A source:
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:22 AM on September 5, 2019

Try to find your city's recycling guidelines. NYC explicitly states that it's ok to put envelopes with plastic windows in paper recycling. (Whether it actually gets recycled is probably out of your control anyway...)
posted by the_blizz at 6:57 AM on September 5, 2019

Yes, ask your local recycler- this varies by location, so you can't get a blanket answer.
posted by pinochiette at 12:30 PM on September 5, 2019

I hate when ppl do this but I've marked all as "Best Answer" because all answers are dead on target.

I'm going to keep on cutting out the plastic on envelopes, a small thing but small things maybe add up.

posted by dancestoblue at 2:48 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

By the way, the vendor who sent me the envelope(s) which prompted this question is a new mortgage outfit, and I got onto their web-site and went paperless from now on. Anyone I can go paperless with I do so; AAA auto club pretty much drives me 'round the bend, constantly sending me all kinds of jive -- "Hey! Look here! We can save you money on your auto insurance!" or "Hey! Look here! We're pretty sure you need this life insurance policy! You've never responded to ANY of our junk but hey, today is probably Your Lucky Day! Sign up now!" I used to take four or five strips of sheet metal cut to size and put them into their prepaid envelopes (ESP to credit card outfits) so I'd put sheet metal into their prepaid envelopes, tape them tight and drop them in the mail, but anymore I just recycle the stuff. Again, recycling this stuff is A Small Thing but it is *something* I can do, a man on deck the Titanic waving a tiny flag as she sinks into the sea ...
posted by dancestoblue at 6:55 PM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

My town's recycling policy explicitly states that junk mail can go in unopened. I take out the chunks of plastic (membership cards) and the chunky plastic adhesive on many mailers because it bugs me.

Lobby legislators for regulations requiring companies to use plastics that are recyclable; plastic recycling addresses problems that could be avoided
posted by theora55 at 7:39 AM on September 6, 2019

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