What Can Be Recycled? 3 Keys to Success

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Ever wonder what happens to that cardboard box after it's placed in the recycling bin? It’s on its way to becoming a pasta container, a coffee sleeve or one of the many other paper products we use every day. Since paper products are among the most recycled materials in the U.S., you can feel good knowing that cardboard box will be transformed into something new.

Recycling your boxes and paper products makes the most of our natural resources.

Recycling your boxes and paper products makes the most of our natural resources.

See how one product can become another and then another and another …

In fact, 93.6% of all cardboard boxes in the U.S. were recycled in 2022. And the paper and packaging industry is determined to see that number grow with investments of around $7 billion in recycling infrastructure planned or announced from 2019 – 2025.

That means, here in the U.S., we’re making advancements so we can accept more and more paper products into our recycling stream. You can help, not only by recycling what you use but by paying attention when you shop, buying products in recyclable containers whenever possible.

To make both steps easier, read our tips below.

1. Learn Your Recycling Center’s Rules

While communities have differing guidelines, these paper and packaging goods can typically be recycled:

Recycling Bin with paper products being recycled
These paper and packaging goods can typically be recycled.
  • White and colored paper. Think writing paper, printer paper, file folders and stationery.
  • Mail and envelopes. Yes, even those with windows, greeting cards (if they don’t have glitter or foil) and coupons.
  • Boxes for cereal, shoes, laundry detergent and medicine.
  • Shipping boxes. (Empty them, and break them down so they’re flat.)
  • Paper bags
  • Magazines and newsprint. There’s no need to remove staples or worry about special inks or glossy papers. Today’s recycling machinery can handle them.
  • Tubes from wrapping paper rolls
  • Molded pulp packaging (the egg carton-type packaging that often secures goods in place within their box).
  • Juice and milk cartons.

Recycling centers usually accept a variety of non-paper items. These include:

  • Aluminum cans
  • Glass bottles
  • Plastic jugs and jars

2. Don’t Put Non-Recyclable Packaging in the Recycling Bin

Inflated Packaging denoted as not recyclable
Plastic packaging material cannot be recycled.

Putting non-recyclable packaging material in the recycling bin is a common mistake. Most municipal recycling facilities don’t accept:

  • Styrofoam.
  • Inflated packaging, such as air bags and plastic sheets with bubbles.
  • “Soft” plastics (i.e., the kind that keep their shape if you scrunch them).
  • Materials that municipal recycling facilities won’t accept should go to a dedicated drop-off spot.


Paper Food packaging
Depending on the recycling facility some paper-based food containers can be recycled. 

3. Recycle Food Packaging with Care

Paper-based food containers, like the paperboard takeout boxes your fries or hamburger come in, are a sustainable option in part because they’re made with a renewable resource. It’s best to put clean, dry food packaging in the recycling bin, but always check your local guidelines beforehand.


Read More: Ingredients for the Perfect Slice: Pepperoni, Mozzarella and Recyclable Boxes


Circular story of the paper industry
When you use paper products, you're doing your part to help the planet. Because the paper, packaging and boxes you rely on every day are designed to be easily recycled.