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Top Tips for Recycling Paper

How To Recycle the Right Way

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

I’m sharing my best tips for recycling paper because it is not always as straightforward as you might think!

Paper and boxes are some of the most recycled materials in the U.S., and both can be recycled and made into new products up to seven times! Recycling paper is one of the easiest ways to make your home produce less waste. But how to recycle paper the right way? These recycling tips will show you what to do with your paper, wrapping, cardboard boxes, and drink cartons. Everything you need to know about how to recycle paper is right here.

A hand placing a cardboard cup carrier in the recycle bin with overlay text reading "The Best Practices for Recycling Paper"

This post was sponsored by the Paper and Packaging Board’s How Life Unfolds® campaign. All thoughts and opinions are my own; for more information please see my disclosure policy.

recycling paper

In 2022, 93.6% of corrugated cardboard packaging and 67.9% of paper were recycled in the United States. Approximately 80% of U.S. paper and packaging mills use some recovered paper fibers in their products, and most corrugated boxes are made from 70% to 100% recycled material.

That’s a lot of opportunity to minimize waste!

Recycling keeps paper out of landfills and makes the most of our natural resources. But there are also a lot of recycling myths around paper packaging that can inhibit the recycling process.

The numerous ways to recycle paper don’t have to be complicated. Here’s everything you need to know about paper sustainability and recycling tips.

how to recycle paper the easy way

The easiest way to recycle paper is by creating an at-home recycling center. In one area of your home, set up a few bins or upcycled cardboard boxes that are properly labeled with images of what materials go in them. 

Whenever you have an item that’s made of paper or cardboard, place it in this bin. When it fills up, just put it out for curbside pickup or add it to your recycling bin outside.

The paper will be taken to paper mills where it will be separated into types and grades. Then, the paper will be washed to remove glue, ink, film, or other contaminants using soapy water. 

Once washed, the paper will be transferred to a large container and mixed with water to create pulp. The pulp is pressed, dried, and rolled into large thin sheets which are cut and used to make recycled paper goods.

A family placing cardboard and paper bags in the recycle bin in a post about how to recycle paper

why is it important to recycle paper?

Recycling paper is important because it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. 

Here are some other benefits of recycling paper, according to the EPA:

  • Extends the fiber supply and contributes to carbon sequestration.
  • Saves considerable landfill space.
  • Reduces energy and water consumption.
  • Decreases the need for disposal (i.e., landfill or incineration — which decreases the amount of CO2 produced).
A family placing cardboard in a recycle box in a post with recycling tips

ways to recycle all types of paper products

A number of paper materials can be recycled. The kinds of paper you can typically recycle are listed below (but make sure to check your local recycling guidelines first): 

  1. Pizza boxes: Empty the box first, brush out your crumbs, and then recycle (even a little grease is okay). Just make sure to check your local guidelines for proper disposal first. If you can’t recycle your pizza box in your area, you can always compost it.
  2. White and colored paper: Think writing paper, file folders, stationery, etc.
  3. Mail and envelopes (yes, even those with windows), paper greeting cards: If you still get coupons, toss ’em in too.
  4. Most of those little boxes that pile up when you buy cereal, frozen food, shoes, cosmetics, and medicine.
  5. Shipping boxes: Empty them, break them down so they’re flat, and keep them dry.
  6. Magazines and newsprint: No need to remove staples or worry about special inks — today’s recycling machinery can handle them.
  7. Juice and milk cartons: Make sure to tap out any excess liquid first.
  8. Wrapping paper that is free of foil and glitter: Including the cardboard tube!

Whatever you do, don’t wishcycle. Wishcycling is when you toss something into the recycling bin and hope it’ll be recycled. This can contaminate the entire bin and make it so none of it gets recycled.

If you’re unsure if you can recycle paper (or anything else), check with local guidelines. They vary from state to state (sometimes town to town), so err on the safe side.

RELATED: How to Improve Your Recycling Habits and Help the Planet

A mom and her daughter placing paper in a recycle bin to illustrate recycling tips

don’t forget upcycling before you recycle paper

While I will always advocate for recycling properly, we should upcycle and reuse before that. Upcycling gives materials a second life before you recycle paper. 

Here are some fun upcycle ideas that will keep your paper packaging from being wasted:

  • Moving soon? Flatten shipping boxes and store them for when you need to start packing.
  • Re-use wrapping paper for another gift (if it’s not too crinkled). 
  • Use cardboard boxes to upgrade your costume crafts (you can cut out and paint wings, stars, or other shapes). Or use it to make a robot costume!
  • Save any decorative cardboard boxes you get during Christmas for next Christmas to package gifts.
  • Cardboard tubes can be used to make gift tags, napkin rings, or gift pouches.
  • Tissue boxes can be upcycled into storage for pens, highlighters, and paint brushes. Or you can use it as a mail holder. 
  • Use the paper in old books to make paper flowers that embellish gifts, wreaths, or frames. 
  • Transform an oatmeal canister into a gift container. Upcycle some newspaper, magazine pages, or calendar pages and wrap them around the canister to hide the oatmeal logo. Or try painting over it! You can also upcycle the canister into a flower pot (make sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom if you do this).
  • Use scrap paper to write down notes, reminders, grocery lists, or important phone numbers.
  • Leftover packaging paper? Save it and use it to wrap gifts for the holidays, as long as it’s not ripped or torn. Make it zero waste by tying it shut with hemp twine instead of tape.


what are your best recycling tips for paper?

The best tip I have for how to recycle paper successfully is to be familiar with your local guidelines. As stated above, the worst thing you can do is toss something into the bin that isn’t recyclable as it contaminates the entire bin.

My other top tip for recycling paper is to keep everything dry — soggy paper or cardboard can render the entire bin unusable.

what types of paper cannot be recycled?

As a general rule, any paper that doesn’t have a plastic film or wax coating, or isn’t embellished with foil or glitter, can be recycled. Some recycling plants will not take paper that has gotten greasy (like from a pizza box) or glossy paper like magazines, so be sure you’re familiar with your local guidelines before you toss anything in the bin.

what happens to paper once it can’t be recycled anymore?

After being recycled 5-7 times, the fibers of paper become too short to be made into paper again because the fibers can’t stick together and will become low quality, weak paper. At that point, some plants will turn it into newsprint or egg cartons.

And, a huge thank you to How Life Unfolds®  for sponsoring this post. Be sure to visit their website to learn more about paper sustainability, upcycling, and recycling.

Also, feel free to visit their Instagram handle @howlifeunfolds and participate in their  #BeAForceForNature campaign.

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