Recycling Q&A: Little Bits of Paper? Envelope Windows? Jam Jars With Metal Lids?

Recycling Q&A: Little Bits of Paper? Envelope Windows? Jam Jars With Metal Lids?

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of recycling tips from Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

Donna Askins is one of the best recyclers in Kane County. She’s an Elgin resident and avid participant who frequently reaches out to the county coordinator to clarify the finer points of recycling.

Here’s one of our most-recent Q’s and A’s:

Q: Dear Jennifer,

Today I am wondering about paper. What I have done in the past is fill a brown paper lunch bag with the envelopes flat and even, so it amounts to a paper “brick.” Then I take a Sharpie and write “PAPER” on both sides. Is this an acceptable practice?

Some envelopes have a cellophane window. Is it better if I remove the cellophane?

I am also wondering about the empty jam jar. It is glass and has a metal lid. Should I remove the lid? Can it be recycled, too?

Many, many thanks for the important work you do.

— Donna

A: Hi, Donna!

Here’s my best advice!

Recycling Paper

I like the “brick” idea, but I believe it would be better to put the envelopes loose in your recycling bin. Here’s why:

Sorting machines identify objects by their dimensions. Paper is thin and flat, so if you bundle it, the “brick” changes the shape and may result in it traveling down the line to the container sort area.

Possible Better Option: I have taken to stapling little scraps of paper to a larger sheet to assure that they get recycled, since small pieces are unlikely to make it through the recycling process. If you staple a couple of envelopes together, that would be helpful, but it’s also perfectly acceptable for them to be loose!

Side Note: Believe it or not, it’s OK to staple or even include paper clips in your recycling. Equipment these days has the ability to remove such things. It is probably in your best interest to remove paper clips, though, so they can be reused.

Side Note 2: It’s also OK to write on your paper with a marker or any other writing tool. Writing does not affect the recyclability of the paper. Paint, glitter and sequins, or anything glued to the paper is not acceptable, though.

Side Note 3: Do recycling sorters read notes you print on recyclables? No, the sorters are moving way too fast to read anything printed on the items coming down the conveyor belt. It doesn’t work the way it used to.

Envelopes With Cellphone Windows

It’s OK to recycle envelopes with cellophane windows!

You can remove them if you want to; it would save a step in the process. But the paper re-manufacturing plants can cope with the windows, just as they can with staples and paperclips.

Side Note: I always like to help the sorting process, so I take the plastic piece out of my tissue boxes, too!

Glass Jars And Metal Lids


Remove the metal lid from the glass jar, and recycle them separately!

Because they are different materials — glass and metal — they need to be separate to be sorted correctly.

Side Note: If you have a plastic jar (or plastic bottle or jug) with a plastic cap or lid, you should go ahead and screw the cap or lid back on, and they will both be recycled.

Thank you for your questions, Donna, — and the encouragement!

— Jen

Got a question of your own? Ask Jennifer Jarland, Kane County Recycling Program coordinator, at 630-208-3841 (office), 303-563-9409 (cell) or

For more information on recycling in Kane County, visit