Window envelopes – to recycle or not?

Filed in Blog by on January 27, 2010 23 Comments
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Can you recycle window envelopes or not?

Can you recycle window envelopes or not?

I had an interesting email from Don, one of our readers, about recycling window envelopes.

I remember learning, when we began our site, that we were supposed to remove the plastic windows from envelopes before recycling them.

Apparently the plastic could contaminate the load or block the machines.

This week Don asked me what I did with the windows in the envelopes we get. He wrote ” What do you do with the windows? At present I have to cut out between 5 and 10 windows each week. They are very small but they do constitute something that I put to landfill.”

When we started talking, we realised we were in the same county, but different districts. The advise from Don’s district council was to take the windows out. Our district are able to accept envelopes with the windows left in!

This highlights the importance of doing your own research dependant on the area you live. On my zero waste, we can only give ideas and suggestions, but you will need to check your individual district council guidelines before recycling anything.

So is there another way around recycling window envelopes?

Personally I never throw envelopes away; I reuse them instead by carefully opening them – this saves money too! I’ve also saved them up and offered them on Freecycle in the past, where I had 6 willing recipients after my loot.

If the majority of your window envelopes come from junk mail, then reduce the amount you have to deal with by opting out. You’ll find all you need to know on our “junk mail” page.

What about you? Can you recycle window envelopes where you live? If not; what do you do with them?

Since I put this article together, Don has contacted me with some great news. News which highlights it’s always worth asking questions to the right people!
Don wrote “After you told me Forest of Dean District Council allowed windows to be left in, I passed the information to our City Cabinet member for the Environment and before the week was out, the City announced we were to be in line with Forest”.

What a great result!

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (23)

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  1. Alea says:

    Our collection company takes the envelopes with the windows still in them. However, I still try to minimize the number that I get by going paperless with all of the comapnies I do business with.

  2. John Costigane says:

    Window envelopes are a constant irritation, since householder are left to deal with this particular waste outcome, as in many other situations. Ideally, these should be compostable to end this unwanted outcome.

    As for the recycling of envelopes, there is still a waste result for the plastic so I take responsibility rather than send ‘away’ for others to deal with the problem. However, there is value in being more active in promoting better practices and ‘return to sender’ has some merit.

  3. we have to remove them in Gloucester. I do all my postage on-line so for the A4 envelopes I leave them intact and print on to A6 labels that stick over them.

  4. H0gg1t says:

    We, here is Cardiff, can leave the windows in, a fact I only discovered since starting this waste reduction challenge. Prior to that we were carefully removing just the window and recycling the resulting windowless envelope.

  5. Ben says:

    I presume that when the envelopes are made they cut out the window area then stick the plastic film over them, which doesn’t seem very useful at first. It actually looks like more work than printing the envelopes directly. However, it seems to be so that posting letters can be automated by machines which print, fold and envelope the letters. The window means the machines don’t have to be able to print envelopes, which makes the machine simpler, faster and unable to put the wrong letter in the envelope.

    The production of most products is getting faster and cheaper, but the disposal of them is often getting harder it seems.

  6. Karin says:

    We don’t have to remove windows in Waverley.

  7. Poppy says:

    We have to remove them and we’re only a fairly short hop, skip and a jump away from Mrs G.

    A number of fates await any envelope windows that come our way. Some are left intact and reused, some are passed onto a friend who uses them in her card making and some are sent back to some poor unsuspecting company that was foolish enough to send us a return envelope. A few are binned if I fail in my efforts to remove them intact.

  8. Janet says:

    We live by the sea, so we have the coastguard service, and they have put boxes in a lot of shops in town which takes envelopes plus any odd stamps for their funds. So any envelopes with printed stamps or normal stamps, complete with window goes in these boxes.

    My local Tescos now has a bin inside their store for recycling plastic hangers.

  9. Just Gai says:

    I live in Bristol and used to cut the windows out until I was reliably informed that I don’t need to.

  10. Jane says:

    Windows in for us as well. ‘This Basildon Bond window film can go in the paper recycling bin’ is the message I can read today after taking a letter out of the envelope. I expect different manufacturers are using different films.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Alea: Hi Alea, great reduce tip there – going paperless is a fab way to decrease paper and envelope waste. Thanks!

    @John Costigane: John, a compostable window seems to be the logical answer to me too, although I wonder what might happen if the post got wet?

    @nic @ nipitinthebud: Nic; have I got news for you! Glos will now take the windows – do check with the council, but I’m pretty sure that’s right ๐Ÿ˜‰

    @H0gg1t: Good news, H0gg1t; that makes things easier.

    @Ben: Yes, good point – in the name of ‘convenience’ other things suffer.

    @Karin: Thanks for the new on Waverley, Karin!

    @Poppy: The difference between districts, gets more and more bizarre doesn’t it?

    @Janet: what a fab idea for the coastguards to collect. Would they accept things by post? People sometimes ask me about stamps so I’d love more details.

    @Just Gai: Great! It seems more councils are coming on board with recycling the windows then – that should make things easier.

    @Jane: Ahhh, another twist to the tale, Jane. I’ll have to contact some manufacturers are find out what they say about this – thanks!

  12. Poppy says:

    I had an interesting envelope delivered the other day. On the inside of the envelope, behind the window, it says Evolve. Recycled. No compromise. 100% Recycled. 100% Biodegradable. Nature First. Window Film made from Plants.

    What I don’t know however, is whether or not this could now be recycled with the paper collection or do I need to remove the window and put it in the compost?

  13. Poppy says:

    All change here too. Now advised not to worry about windows as they’ll be removed during the recycling process anyway! However, we couldn’t come to any conclusion about these Biodegradable windows, but thought it was probably best to stick those in the compost and see what happens! Home composting may not reach high enough temperatures ……….. we’ll see! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Let us know how you get on Poppy and thanks for clearing this one up. I wasn’t sure about it myself as I know some biodegradable or compostable things put into recycling (such as carrier bags) can render the batch useless – so much to learn :/

  15. John Costigane says:

    The Royal Mail is being allowed to send more Junk Mail to households which shows their lack of concern for householders, not forgetting the DMA blinkered view. On BBC Breakfast there was minimal coverage but emails flooded in. In a recent Guardian topic on this announcement, posters voiced their opinions and there seems to be campaigns about to start. Another annoyance was a recycling symbol on a plastic-windowed envelope today.

    Junk Mail has always been an issue but rather than improve the situation will worsen and I feel we should Return To Sender the DMA which is profiting from the unwanted practice.

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: John, it’s a terrible problem and I was just reading about it over on Robert’s Stop Junk Mail blog. It’s so sad that junk mail is not being legislated against. As you say, we simply have to opt out AND return to sender to get the message through…

  17. Jane says:

    Sad that Royal Mail is reduced to delivering unwanted unsolicited junk mail. I wish they’d concentrate on a good easy to use and reliable postal service.

  18. Jane says:

    And what about windows in cardboard packaging? The Higgidy pie packaging says all their packaging (PET tray, cardboard carton and ?plastic window) is recyclable. The M&S sandwiches say the cardboard is but not the plastic window. There is often a fuss about whether the cardboard is clean or not. How much of this is because it may “not be nice” for someone to deal with? Or because “we don’t want to confuse people”. Don’t we all know that any food contamination smells nice to undesirable visitors? Let’s be sensible about this!

  19. Todd says:

    Window envelopes are generally polystyrene. Placed in acetone they will dissolve into a gooey substance that can be used as glue or to make things out of. It will harden in time.

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Todd: Hello Todd – windows are made from polystyrene; really? I didn’t know that. I’ll do some research myself and as for making glue, that’s an interesting reuse idea! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing.

  21. David Berkley says:

    Envelopes
    1) Firms often enclose an envelope for reply. Just felt-tip out the address & use the envelope. A possible bonus is that the envelope often has a First Class stamping. I put on my usual 2nd class stamp and hope that the Royal Mail automatic sorting system will pick up the First Class logo and speed it on its way. No harm hoping!
    2) Almost any envelope can be re-used, but must felt-tip over the Royal Mail’s dots for automatic sorting.
    3) I have made a computer file producing stickers saying “Save a tree – re-use envelopes” It is only 2×1.5cm, so doesn’t use much paper. I’m happy to forward to anyone wanting it – on Microsoft Publisher, but would probably go on PDF.
    4) Is this naughty – I scrunch up window envelopes & use them to light my wood-burner? Hey Presto, no need to buy firelighters!

    “Back paging.” George Bernard Shaw (?) used to write letters on the back-side of old letters. He said that the front side often provided additional interest! The mind boggles at possibilities, but be careful!

  22. Mrs Green says:

    @David Berkley: Hi David; It sounds like you have found the solution to these and now, it’s not naughty to use a resource you already have to save you buying firelighters. We too use a little paper and cardboard to light the fire each morning…I must admit I’ve written letters on the back of old; but yes, you do need to be selective ๐Ÿ˜‰

  23. Philippa says:

    Back on this one again.

    The kerbside collection allows window envelopes (the backs of which are often used for note taking, shopping lists etc before they go in) BUT I noticed that the paper and cardboard collection in Sainsbury’s says NO ENVELOPES. What is that about?

    I thought that windows were now screened out of the paper as part of the process.

    Any experts out there?

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