Are Magazines Recyclable?

Plus, how to give glossy pages a second life

overhead view of hand on multiple magazines spread on a table with coffee cup

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

The slick and shiny paper used for traditional magazines and catalogs causes some confusion in the post-consumer department; nonetheless, the answer is yes, magazines can be recycled. Once they're collected with everyday household recycling, they're sorted with other paper products, then pulped and de-inked in a series of chemical processes. Cleaned paper pulp is often combined with virgin wood fibers to create new products, such as egg cartons, padded envelopes, cat litter, and building insulation.

Here's how to recycle — and upcycle — old magazines.

Magazine Production and Waste by the Numbers

How to Recycle Glossy Paper

person pulls out perfume sample in magazine while sitting on green couch

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Usually, glossy paper is made so with natural additives (like fine clay), which soak into the gaps of the paper fibers and create a smooth, polished coating. Because this coating is natural, most magazine paper can be recycled with regular matte paper products.

First, ensure the magazine or catalog is free of plastic wrapping and any fluid cosmetic samples, and try to remove as many stickers as you can (it's OK if there is a little tape or a few stickers on the magazine, as those will be filtered out during the recycling process). Then, throw the magazines into your paper or mixed pile and send them away with your regular curbside recycling.

At the recycling plant, paper is sorted by type — copy paper, paper packaging, newspaper, and so forth. Then, it's broken down into fibers, stripped of its coating, screened, de-inked, thickened, and brightened. Finally, the pulp is dried, combined with virgin wood fiber, pressed, and fashioned into various products.

How to Tell When Paper Is PE-Coated

hand pours water on magazine page in tray to make sure it recycles

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Most consumer print magazines use earth-derived minerals and resins to create that characteristic shine, but a small portion use polyethylene (PE) — i.e., plastic — which isn't recyclable.

You can easily decipher whether your glossy paper has been coated in natural additives or plastic by trying to tear it. If it rips easily, it's naturally coated and, thus, recyclable. If it's difficult to tear or doesn't stay crumpled when you ball it up in your palm, it's likely coated in plastic and therefore can't be recycled. If you're really stumped, try soaking a small piece in water for a couple hours to see whether it degrades — if it does, move forth with your noble recycling efforts.

Is Magazine Paper Compostable?

hands drop shredded magazine paper into green compost bin

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Glossy paper that can be recycled can also be composted. So long as the paper isn't coated in plastic, it will break down in a home compost like regular, matte paper, although it might take a little longer. You can speed up the composting process by shredding the magazine pages first.

Some people avoid composting glossy paper because of the damage toxic inks can cause to soil and critters. While the petroleum-based inks historically used by magazines are, indeed, harmful to the environment, most have been replaced by vegetable-based inks (that are perfectly compostable) in the past couple of decades. The transition to soy ink, now an industry-wide standard, began in the 1970s, when the Newspaper Association of America sought an alternative to costly petroleum-based ink. While the American Soybean Association doesn't specify how many magazines use this more sustainable option today, it says more than 90% of newspapers are now printed with color soy ink. If you're unsure about whether the ink on your magazine is compost-friendly, look for the SoySeal, the American Soybean Association's official certification.

Ways to Reuse Magazines

person reads magazine in front of cluttered newsstand filled with magazines

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling one ton of paper saves about three cubic yards of landfill space, a whopping 7,000 gallons of water, and enough energy to power the average American home for six whole months. For every ton of paper saved, so is a metric ton of carbon equivalent. Even so, recycling should be a last resort. 

While recycling requires less energy and produces less pollution than making things from scratch, the process of recycling in itself — from curbside collection to the laborious process of cleaning, drying, and beyond — is polluting. Consumers should first reduce the number of magazines and catalogs to which they subscribe. The most-read magazine in the U.S., AARP The Magazine, alone has a circulation of more than 23 million people. That's almost three times the population of New York City. Instead, you can subscribe to digital versions of magazines to save paper or read them in print at your local library.

The next step in the EPA's famed trifecta of sustainability — after reducing and before recycling — is, of course, reusing. Here are some ways to extend the life of magazines before they go into the blue bin.

Donate Them

person crouched over cardboard box full of magazines to recycle

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Give your magazines more life before they're turned into home decor or recycled into insulation and kitty litter by donating them to your local library, hospitals and doctors' offices, schools, and nursing homes. Find out whether military troops, hospice organizations, shelters, prisons, literacy groups, and charities in your area would accept magazine donations. 

Make sure the organization takes magazine donations beforehand and check whether there are specific guidelines for reading material, as would be the case for schools and military troops.

Where to Donate Magazines?

National organizations that accept magazine donations include Books for SoldiersMagazine HarvestMagLiteracy, and US Modernist (architecture and design magazines only).

Turn Them Into Art

person hangs up framed piece of art cut out from magazine on pale green wall

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

From origami garland and accordion Christmas trees to patchwork placemats and wallpaper, Pinterest is rife with home decorating ideas using old magazines. Beyond the typical decoupage, their colorful, glossy pages can be turned into beads for bracelets or quirky doorway curtains, rolled up and glued together for limited-use dishes, crimped into pinwheels for wall art and clocks, and beyond.

Use Them Around the House

kitchen spice drawer pulled out to show magazine paper used as lining

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If not as decoration, magazines can be used around the house as shelf and drawer lining or boot shape keepers. Skip the plastic litter box liners and use the glossy pages of a catalog or tabloid instead. You can even roll magazine paper up and plant seedlings in them instead of using plastic trays.

Use Them for Wrapping and Packing

magazines scattered on table next to scissors, twine, and gift-wrapped present in upcycled paper

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Magazine paper can take the place of bubble wrap and Styrofoam packing peanuts (which will be some of the last things on Earth to decompose), tissue, and wrapping paper (neither of which are recyclable), and other packaging items. With a little methodical folding, the glossy pages can even be made into decorative envelopes. You can shred them and use the multicolored paper ribbons in gift boxes or for cushion in packages to be sent through the mail. 

View Article Sources
  1. "Soy Ink Seal." American Soybean Association.

  2. "Paper Recycling - Basic Information Details." Environmental Protection Agency. 2016.

  3. "Total Circulation for Magazine Media." Alliance for Audited Media. 2020.

  4. "Polystyrene & Food Packaging." Massachusetts Sierra Club.