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How to recycle paper the correct way

Written by: Hendrik

Category: Recycle, Solution

Updated on:


In this article we created a list for you to quickly find which paper is recyclable and which isn’t and how to recycle it the right way.

👍 = yes recyclable and or compostable

👎 = no, not recyclable or compostable

👉 = not so clear, read on.

Recycling can be quite confusing. Only 9 % of our plastic waste is getting recycled. When it comes to recycling paper, the numbers look much more promising. This is because it is much easier to recycle paper than plastic.

How to recycle paper? A quick look.

girl with magnifying glasses
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Paper is first deconstructed into pulp so the fibers can be reused. The most common way to remove the ink from the paper is through water where bubbles carry the ink with help of detergents and other checmicals to the surface. This process is called floatation deinking.

Other processes include washing the paper due to more chemical-based ink. This can also involve using bleaches.

It depends on your council what you can recycle and what you can’t, but there is a general rule applicable to most places. Create less waste in the first place.

The most important step you can do is reduce the amount of paper we use, which has become fairly easy today. You can squiggle it on your phone or tablet using apps like Google Keep or Notion.

Let’s see which paper is recyclable and which one isn’t:

Brown Paper

👍 Yes, you can recycle brown paper. Or you can use it as gift wrapping or even write a letter on it. You can use it for filler packaging of a parcel.

how to recycle envelopes
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👉 Envelopes are recyclable, but you have to remove the little plastic window; otherwise, this can lead to contamination of the load and won’t be accepted. The same goes for pasta boxes.

Milk Carton

👎 Even though most milk cartons and other tetra paks will say to recycle them, the likelihood of them actually being recycled is small to none. Why? A tetra pack is made up of many different layers, including polyethylene and aluminum, and paper. To separate them again is nearly impossible. Best to use glass or cans.

how to recycle toilet paper rolls
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Toilet Paper Rolls (empty)

Only empty toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls are recyclableToilet paper and paper towels are not recyclable.

Printed paper

👉 If you are using plant-based ink, then yes, your paper is recyclable. Most inkjet printers use dye-based ink, which is not recycable. It is still possible to remove the paper’s dye ink during the recycling process, but often bleach needs to be used as the ink doesn’t wash off.

Aluminum paper/Aluminum foil

👍 Is highly recyclable. In 2017, the total recycling rate of aluminum containers and packaging, including beverage containers, food containers, foil, and another aluminum packaging, was 32.8 percent. [1]

Glossy magazines

👍 Magazines are fine to be recycled, but not good for your compost. A good practice is to see if someone wants to use them for art projects or in a waiting room.

how to recycle receipts
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👎 You won’t believe it, but receipts are lined with BPA, making them printable under heat. Have you ever put a lighter near a receipt? It goes dark. A study found that people handling receipts have a higher BPA count in their blood cells. Take a pic with your phone if you need a receipt; otherwise, leave it behind.

Butcher paper

👎 Is coated with plastic. It is neither recyclable nor compostable.

Wax paper

👉 If it is coated with natural wax-like beeswax or vegetable wax, then it is recyclable and compostable. If it is coated with a petroleum-based wax, then it is neither. The only way to tell the difference is by checking the ingredients.

Parchment paper

👉 It is treated with acid during production to give it high stability and high heat resistance; then, it is coated with a nonstick material, typically silicone. Not recyclable, not compostable… just garbage. However, you can reuse it a couple of times and afterward throw it in the bin.

how to recycle paper cups
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Paper cups

👎 Don’t get me started on paper cups. I used to love my coffee, and that’s why I use my KeepCup. Paper cups are lined with a very thin layer of plastic and, therefore, not recyclable. Also, if you add a hot beverage to anything that is plastic lined, it will leach endocrine disruptors into your blood.

related: Are Coffee Cups Recyclable?

Pizza boxes

👉 If the pizza box is full of grease, then it isn’t recyclable. If only the bottom is grease, you can tear the lid off, throw it into the recycling, and put the greasy bottom into your compost. If you don’t have one, it goes in the bin.


👉 It turns out that the fibers are too short to be recycled, but you can compost most of them. If you are not sure about the ink in them, throw them in the bin.

how to recycle newspaper
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👍 We use it to mulch around plants. I have heard people saying they don’t use it because of the ink, but I think you are fine to use them. A newspaper is recyclable and compostable.

Pasta boxes

👍 They are recyclable, but you would have to remove it before you recycle the box if you see a little plastic window.

Shredded paper

👍 Is compostable but not recyclable. It is too short. However, you can use it in your compost or for packaging to fill out the empty spots.


👎 Photos are not recyclable.

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Egg Cartons

👉 There are three different types of egg cartons. The paper ones can be recycled or composted 👍

The clear plastic ones can be recycled. And the foam ones need to go in the bin. The best practice is to reuse your paper cartons and avoid buying plastic or foam egg cartons at all costs.

I hope this was useful and made your decision-making process a bit easier. Let me know what cool DIY ideas you have come up with to reuse paper.

Photo of author

Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

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