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How To Recycle Your Direct Mail
January 19, 2022

How To Recycle Your Direct Mail

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Direct mail is an effective way for enterprise marketers to reach customers. Unfortunately, it can lead to unnecessary waste that often ends up in landfills. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whether you can recycle mail depends on its ability to be de-inked, re-pulped, composted, or reused. There are many ways to recycle mail or reuse elements to reduce the impact on the environment.

Encourage customers to recycle direct mail

One of the easiest ways to pass on green habits is by encouraging your customers to recycle their direct mail. You can do this by simply adding notations directly to your mailpieces. You also add credibility by showing that your company cares about the environment. Here are some examples:

  • “Made With Renewable Materials” or “Printed on Recycled Paper” — Show that you only use materials that help conserve natural resources.
  • “Carbon Offset” or “Reduced Carbon Footprint” — This indicates your company participates in activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as planting trees.
  • “Soy Ink” or “Sustainable Printing” — Showcase the use of environmentally-friendly printer ink and printing processes.
  • “Please Recycle” or “Recyclable” — Placing this on marketing materials leaves customers with no questions about it being recyclable.
  • “Compostable” or “Plant This” — These labels call attention to direct mail made with biodegradable materials or seed paper.
  • “Certified” – Seals, logos, and other designations from third parties for eco-conscious certifications based on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustained Forestry Initiative (SFI), or other industry standards.

Direct mail, sometimes unfortunately labeled “junk mail,” is often discarded after a consumer receives it. They may or may not recycle it, so it’s vital to target marketing efforts to those interested in your products or services. Also, if your mailing list isn’t clean, then a large amount of mail could be undeliverable. Use address verification tools to ensure your mailpieces get delivered.

Recycling direct mail

Many types of direct mail can be recycled. It’s essential to know a few things about the materials used to make them, including paper stock, ink, packaging, contents, etc.


Simple paper advertising and letters printed with standard inks are usually recyclable. Hot and cold foil stamping contains tiny metal flakes that disintegrate when recycled or re-pulped, as well. If the mailpiece contains foil seals or metalized boards, it shouldn’t be recycled. Any fake credit cards or other items made of plastic should be removed before recycling. Self-mailers are ideal because they don’t require envelopes, which may have plastic address windows or labels with adhesives that are hard to remove.

Postcards and invitations

Postcards, greeting cards, invitations, announcements, and other mailers made of card stock can usually be recycled. Process color printing inks can be removed by de-inking, which occurs during the recycling process. Vegetable-based inks and soy-based inks come from renewable sources and are biodegradable and easier to remove.

Flyers and brochures

The typical corporate marketing flyers, brochures, pamphlets, and similar self-mailers can be recycled. These mailers have the same general limitations as letters and postcards. Self-mailers are more likely to have more creative embellishments, such as special inks or coatings. Like process colors, metallic and UV inks can be recycled. Fluorescent inks are more challenging to remove, so they should be avoided when possible.

Newspapers and newsletters

Grocery stores and retailers often send weekly newspapers announcing special sales. Many companies also send newsletters. These direct mail items are typically printed on newsprint using standard inks. The materials are almost always recyclable, even if they have glossy inserts and coupons.

Catalogs and magazines

As with most direct mail, catalogs, magazines, and similar multi-page promotional materials likely use paper stock and printing inks that are recyclable. You won’t need to worry about the staples and other binding materials. Most recycle centers and paper manufacturers remove them, along with any extras like ad inserts and perfume samples. If the catalog is protected with a plastic mailing wrapper, it should be removed before recycling. Consider using wrappers made with recyclable plastic or paper wrap.

Reuse direct mail elements

Some marketing materials contain a range of content pieces that may or may not be completely recyclable. In addition to typical paper and ink, direct mail elements may contain plastic, staples, padding, etc. Another option is to consider elements that can be used in other ways. This may take some careful preplanning, but reusable items are the next best thing to recyclable ones.

Compostable paper

In some cases, letters may contain personal or sensitive information. Care should be taken when disposing of anything that could expose a customer to potential risk. Simple direct mail should be shredded and can even be composted if it’s made with biodegradable materials.

Reusable envelopes

Envelopes that are reusable and don’t contain a plastic window are eco-conscious options. The envelopes can be easily repurposed for use around the home and office or reused for future mailings.

Seed paper mailers

Rather than creating recyclable promotions, consider a greener option that looks and feels like nature. Seed paper is paper stock made with seeds embedded into the pulp. You can use it for your postcards and other marketing, and the recipient can plant it in a flowerpot or in their garden. The paper is biodegradable, so it breaks down as the seeds grow.

Other reusable ideas

There are many unique ways to create direct mail using elements that can be reused by your customer — everything from refrigerator-worthy postcards to preprinted post-it notes. It may take some imagination to come up with these eco-conscious alternatives.

Final thoughts

Maintaining sustainable business practices can be a challenge for many marketers. Once you become aware of the different approaches available, you’ll see it’s not all that difficult to recycle mail and reuse direct mail elements. The key is to use materials that can be recycled or reused and offer the lowest carbon footprint possible.

At Lob, we’re committed to helping our clients reduce the environmental impact of direct mail. We offer sustainable printing practices, including everything from using recyclable inks and paper stock to partnering with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified print vendors. We even plant trees! Let us help you choose the most eco-conscious direct formats, printing processes, and more.

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