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

Their glossy paper is a common cause of confusion, but the answer is yes, magazines can be recycled (as long as they are not PE-coated).

Magazines are 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.

Ready to get started? Here's how to recycle — and upcycle — old magazines.

How to Tell If Your Magazine Is Recyclable

The glossy paper of most magazines is made with earth-derived minerals and resins that soak into the gaps of the paper fibers and create a smooth, polished coating. This coating is perfectly fine to recycle alongside matte paper products.

However, a small portion of magazines get their shine from a type of plastic called polyethylene (PE), which is not 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.

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

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Still stumped? Try soaking a page from the magazine in water for a couple of hours. If it degrades, it can be recycled; if it doesn't degrade, it has to be trashed.

How to Recycle Magazines

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.)

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

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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, 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.

Is Magazine Paper Compostable?

Recyclable magazines 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.

hands drop shredded magazine paper into green compost bin

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Some people avoid composting glossy paper because of the damage toxic inks can cause to soil and critters. While it's true that petroleum-based inks are harmful to the environment, they have largely been replaced by compostable, vegetable-based inks like 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

Recycle is the final step in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle process. Before you recycle your magazines, try to find ways to reuse them. And while you're at it, consider switching to digital subscriptions to reduce your future consumption of paper magazines.

Here are some ways to extend the usable life of magazines before they go into the blue bin.

Donate Magazines

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.

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

Turn Magazines 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 Magazines 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.

Wrap Gifts With Magazines

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 to cushion packages you're sending in the mail.

Magazine Production and Waste by the Numbers

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

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