Yes You Can Recycle…

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window envelopes.

I’ve always wondered if you can recycle window envelopes.  Since I assumed the answer was no, I’d take the time to open all my junk mail, pull out the recyclable paper, and put the window envelopes in the trash.  But it turns out this is no longer necessary (…and hasn’t been for a while, so I’ve been wasting my time with that junk mail). 

To find out more, I spoke to a recycled paper buyer who buys hundreds of tons of recycled paper for re-processing every week.   Here’s a summary of what I learned:

  • The recycling plant soaks the recycled paper in what is essentially a giant blender.  This turns it back into pulp, which is what paper is made from.  After the mix is complete, the slurry is fed through a trommel screener, which is kind of like spinning tubular colander.  The pulp goes through the holes in the screener, and the plastic panels from window envelopes don’t.  So while the window plastic isn’t necessarily desirable, it’s tolerable.
  • The only thing that really causes trouble is glue and wax.  Try to remove rubber cement, such as from credit card offers, and tape.  As long as it’s a small amount, it’s OK – but the bane of the recycler’s existence is sticky rubber cement, glues, or waxes in large quantities.  They can plug up the screener.
  • Color-printed paper can go in with the white paper.  You can include the paper wrappers copy paper comes in, for example.  If you tear the paper and it looks white, it’s the ink on the surface that’s coloring it and it’s OK; if you tear it and it’s colored, like construction paper, it’s called ‘beater-dyed’ paper and it’s not acceptable.
  • Cardboard, both the corrugated and chipboard (like cereal box packaging) types are also recyclable, but not in with the office paper.  Cardboard has long fibers, which are desirable.  Chipboard has shorter fibers but is still usable.  Both have longer fibers than office paper.
  • Magazines and newspapers can go together, but cardboard should be kept separate.  But magazines are generally worth more than newspapers, so some recyclers might ask you to separate them.
  • Small amounts of plastic and metal – like a few staples  – are OK.   
  • Glossy paper (like flyers from newspaper inserts) should be put in with the magazines.  Glossy paper is created with a clay coating, and the recycling plants use a de-inking machine which removes this clay coating.
  • Phone books, called directory stock, can go in with the newspaper and magazines. 

Generally, office waste paper is made into tissue and towel paper grades.  Recycled cardboard is made into more cardboard, paper sacks, and liner for gypsum board (gypsum board typically has a white side and a gray side – the gray side can use more recycled paper).  Chipboard can be made into more chipboard.  Magazines can be made into all kinds of paper grades, from news and directory to bath tissue and toweling.

I also researched some stats on the industry.  Recycled paper is valuable (just like recycled asphalt shingles) – in fact, good clean sorted office paper could be worth more than one hundred dollars per ton, according to Waste & Recycling News.  No doubt in part because of this, recovery rates hit a record 63.4% in 2009.  And here’s kind of a fun thing – go to this link to create your own personalized paper recycling poster for the office.  You just check the boxes for what items you’re recycling, and enter your name, and it generates a printable poster.

Most GAF locations, including our headquarters offices, recycle paper.  Do you recycle paper at your home or workplace?  Did you know you can recycle window envelopes?

There are 6 comments

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  1. Norma Mary Fay

    Great post on going green. A very important benefit to using gypsum board in a construction project is that it is recyclable. I think it is very important to choose materials that are environmentally friendly. Before starting this type of project, I would recommend checking out McGraw Hill's directory on construction products. While I do work for them, they honestly offer a lot of useful information, including listings of the products and manufacturers that are out there. You should check them out.

  2. Martin Grohman

    Thanks for your comment. Can you tell me a little more about what you mean by glue? The adhesive, which has been a great advance in shingle performance, does not have to be separated – it is asphalt based and works well for hot mix asphalt. Basically, it is all fed into a grinder, equipped with magnets which pull out the nails, and then the remainder is finely ground and added back to the asphalt pavement mix, generally at 5%.

  3. Roofing Contractor

    Great article! Is there a machine that gets rid of the glue on the back of these types of roofing tiles? Businesses could help the environment by recycling… but they could also use this as a selling point to their business! Thanks for the great information. I always use GAF roofing!

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