I had a lot of interest at my last event in my What Do I Do With box. Particularly in the mailers I have in the box. My box is a demonstration tool I use at events to catch people’s eyes and to invite discussions. Someone may see something they’ve always wondered about or get interested in an item as they dig through the box. It’s inspired by the City of Austin’s What Do I Do With? section of their website and Austin Recycles app.

I made a video for my neighbors in hopes that it would be more engaging for most people and for visual leaners. It’s here.

Let’s get started with the rest of our post with pictures.

This is a plastic mailer with a paper sticker label (hidden on the flap flipped over). You’ll want to tear or cut off the paper stickers and labels so only the plastic is left. Throw away the stickers and you can recycle the bag at a plastic bag and film drop-off station.

This is similar to the plastic mailer above; however you can see that the label information is printed directly onto the plastic. Since there is no paper sticker/label, this can go as-is into a plastic bag and film drop-off station. Just make sure to take out all the invoices, packing slips, and merchandise. I get these type of mailers from prescriptions and supplements.

Below are some examples of plastic bag and film recycling stations. Most grocery stores and chain stores that carry groceries will have a recycling station outside the entrance, right inside the door, or in my Home Depot’s case near the exit. You may need to ask a staff or customer service employee the first time if you can’t see it. Some of these stations were taken away during COVID but most seem to be back in place now. If your store that provides groceries doesn’t have a plastic bag recycling station and uses plastic bags, request and encourage them to start a recycling station.

This is Amazon’s most common non-box mailer (it’s at least the type I get the most after boxes). It can be recycled at most plastic bag and film drop-off stations. Make sure to cut or tear off the paper label/sticker so only the plastic is left.

At this time, the City of Austin has advised us that the contractor who processes the plastic bags and film from the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center will not accept these because there is too much glue. The white outside is glued to the clear inside. The City has instructed us to take these to HEB or another store’s plastic bag and film drop-off station. I have two previous posts on Amazon listed below.

Amazon’s “greener” mailer. While the label claims the item is only a paper bag, those white puffy dots that “pad” the mailer are actually glue dots. The mailer is padded with tons of glue dots. Similarly to the plastic Amazon mailer, at this time the City of Austin’s contractors do not want this much glue in their paper stream and have advised us to trash this item. Check with your local providers on how they want to handle this mailer.

I will say that 2022 vs. 2019, it appears Amazon has reduced the amount of glue dots by a lot. So that is encouraging. I know it can be frustrating or confusing, but vendors seem to be trying and technology keeps improving so there will be changes in what we can or cannot recycle. Vendors/contractors will also differ in what they will accepts based on what they can sell.

This paper envelope with plastic bubble wrap inside goes in the trash. It’s almost impossible to separate the paper from the plastic. Luckily I don’t get many of this type anymore and I hope you don’t either.

This is my favorite mailer, all paper. It’s made of 100 % recycled paper and is filled with paper. It’s very squishy and I would feel safe getting things that need padded in it. I have the inside ripped open as it’s my demo envelope, but please do not rip these when you recycle them in your curbside carts. Loose shredded paper and filling can jam the single-stream recycling sorters, so just drop it in your recycling cart as-is. The label, envelope and padding are all paper so it’s acceptable as is.

This is an air pillow. It’s not a mailer but it’s related to mail so I’m including it. I also got a fair amount of questions about it.

Just pop it flat and you can recycle it at any plastic bag and film drop-off station. They’re typically easy to pop but I will also use an utility knife or scissors to pop them if I have a big sting of them.

Please do not put these in your curbside recycling cart. They will jam the sorting machines.

Bubble wrap is also not a mailer, but again related to mail.

You don’t have to pop these unless you want to. Ask kids to help or enjoy some stress relief, with ear plugs or ear muffs if you need to.

This can be recycled at any plastic bag and film drop-off station.

Please do not put these in your curbside recycling cart. They will jam the sorting machines.

I have a few tips and recommendations to share on this topic.

  • Try to purchase locally if you can. Checking websites, internet searches (you can sort for local in-store), asking friends on the phone or in a social media group, and calling ahead can save you gas and time.
  • If you do order things online, try to either hold your cart until you have enough for a box, or find out if you can request a box for your shipment. Most curbside recycling programs accept cardboard boxes so it’s going to be your greenest and easiest to process choice. These other options are saving money for the company sending out the items and saving shipping space and weight which can save the seller and freight companies money. Unfortunately the burden to recycle it, and recycle it properly falls on us the consumer.
  • Contact your favorite sellers and shippers to request they make more easily recycled choices. “Greener choices” can be a matter of convenience so be careful of your word choice. Request that they also make it easier and obvious in how to contact them about requesting or changing shipping packaging options.

We vote with our dollars and can use our voices. We can affect change if we want to.

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