Recycling Tip: Can You Recycle Address Labels?

One of our readers recently asked us an excellent recycling question:

Can I recycle paper that is sticky on the back, like address labels, sticky notes.  If so, can I shred the address labels along with other mail and papers that have personal information on it?

Address labels and sticky notes are called “pressure-sensitive adhesives” (PSA). PSAs do not require moisture to activate. PSAs do not dissolve in water, but fragment into smaller particles. Since most paper recycling systems use water to transform paper into a pulp, this causes problems. The particles from PSAs are difficult to screen out or filter from this pulp and can become lodged in papermaking equipment. The particles can even become lodged in the paper itself, creating holes or weak spots in the paper that can cause the paper to rip or tear easily and cause jams in printers and copiers.

So what does this mean? Don’t put items like labels, stickers, stamps, and tape in the recycling bin because it causes more harm than good.

Now Post-It Notes are a little different. They use a different kind of PSA than the other items mentioned. Extensive testing by 3M has shown that the paper deinking process removes this self-adhesive. According to the EPA, recycling programs that accept mixed paper will often accept Post-It Notes (or other brands of sticky notes). It’s still best to check with your city or local recycling center to be on the safe side.

As for shredding, I have read that the adhesive damages most shredders, so shred at your own risk! In theory, the best way to shred a PSA item would be to minimize the contact that the adhesive has with the blade—so sandwiching it between pieces of paper would be better than shredding it by itself.

Do you have any recycling questions? Leave them in a comment below or use our contact form!

More information about pressure-sensitive adhesives can be found here.

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