How to Recycle Magazines & Catalogs

Magazines and catalogs can be recycled easily curbside or in drop-off locations. But, you may also want to consider reducing your consumption.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Recycling Magazines and Catalogs
Recycling Magazines and Catalogs / Sander Tamm / Ecolife

Whether you’re addicted to flipping through glossy catalogs or reading the latest Hollywood rag, if you’re a greenie, you’ve likely already considered your printed reading habit’s impact on the environment. That’s a good thing, because producing magazines and catalogs requires a lot of resources and produces a lot of waste:

  • Approximately 9 billion catalogs are sent out to Americans every year, which results in millions of tons of carbon dioxide being emitted.
  • Printing a million copies of a magazine requires 348,000 pounds of paper. Some magazines, such as AARP in the USA, print tens of millions of copies per issue.
  • Though recycling rates for paper in the US are relatively high, the magazine recycling rate is only about 20%.

How glossy paper is made and recycled

The glossy paper used to make magazines and catalogs is created by coating it with a white clay called kaolin and buffing it with rollers. This process makes it easier to print high-color images and pictures and gives you that squeaky, shiny look and feel you love.

On the flip side, once collected and transported to a recycling center, magazines and catalogs are shredded and mixed up with water to create pulp. Then, like the regular paper making process, the pulp is washed and cleaned, refined, and blended into a slushy mess. When magazines and catalogs are recycled, the resulting fibers are not as strong as they once were, so they’re used to make facial tissue, paperboard, newspaper, and writing paper, but they cannot be remade into new magazines.

How to recycle magazines and catalogs

Thankfully, all of the processing done to magazine or catalog paper doesn’t mean that can’t be recycled. In fact, most glossy paper will not even contaminate the other paper in your recycling bin, despite common consumer myths. So how do you recycle magazines and catalogs?

  • Reduce: Online versions of magazines and catalogs now abound, making the need for paper copies virtually unnecessary. 
  • Donate: Often nonprofits, hospices, and doctors offices will accept donations of used magazines for use in their waiting rooms or residences. Ask around to see if there’s an organization willing to take your regular drop-offs of secondhand magazines. Schools will also take catalogs and magazines for use in craft projects – ask your child’s teacher if she or he is in need. And sometimes you can donate used magazines to secondhand bookstores or libraries.
  • Crafts: You’d be surprised at the fun things you can create with magazines you can’t recycle, such as paper beads, mosaics, paper flowers, and garbage cans. You may also be able to use magazines as wrapping paper or for book covers.
  • Reuse: Often you can shred or crumple up printed materials like magazines for use as packing material when storing valuables or shipping fragile items.

How to recycle your used magazines

  1. Clean them up: You’ll need to remove contaminants like membership cards, product samples, stickers, plastic wrap, windows, and other fun add-ons included with your magazines or catalogs.
  2. Curbside recycle: If you have a pick-up program for your weekly recycling, usually you can include glossy materials like magazines and catalogs, though you should check your program rules to be sure.
  3. Drop-off recycle: When curbside recycling isn’t available, if there are drop-off recycling programs in your community, as to whether they will take your used magazines and catalogs.