Ask the Editor: Recycling Wax Paper

Earth911’s “Ask The Editor” series tackles your toughest environmental and recycling dilemmas.

How do you reuse or recycle wax paper? – @katiehepfinger

Usually recycling paper is pretty straight forward as most curbside programs accept the material. But it gets a little hairy when we start getting into soiled paper, paperboard, coated paper, wax paper or (gulp) pizza boxes.

Photo: Flickr/kowitz

Wax paper’s coating renders it unrecyclable, but there are some reuse options. Photo: Flickr/kowitz

The most important thing to understand is that paper is recycled with water, so adding any type of oil to the mix essentially contaminates and ruins the batch.

Grease and oil are not as big of a problem for plastic, metal and glass, as those materials are recycled using a heat process. But when paper products are recycled, they are mixed with water and turned into a slurry. Since we all know water and oil don’t mix, the issue is clear.

With all that being said, the simple answer is no, wax paper is not recyclable because it is coated with…well wax. But if you simply have to use it to make those homemade biscuits or fluffy sugar cookies, don’t toss your wax paper into the trash after using it. If your only “contaminant” is powdered sugar or flour, you can simply wipe off the paper with a damp cloth and use it again.

Wax paper is considered to be “mixed paper.” Other coated paper products that cannot be recycled include food contaminated paper, waxed cardboard milk and juice containers, oil-soaked paper, carbon paper, pet food bags, sanitary products or tissues, thermal fax paper, stickers and plastic laminated paper such as fast food wrappers.

But with a little stretch of the ol’ noggin, you can find a reuse project for even the most complicated of items.

Got a question? E-mail the editor at or send us a message via Facebook or Twitter.

Feature image courtesy of m kasahara

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  1. I’ve been recycling cardboard milk and orange juice containers for years. The two recycling centers that I go to both accept them, or at least have never told me that they can’t take them. I usually put them in with my cardboard. The article above states that these can not be recycled. Is this true everywhere?

    Thanks for the info. I love your website and Facebook postings.


  2. Just read Lori’s article about pizza boxes as well–great info–we need to get this to the city govt offices to disseminate to the public!
    Also, perhaps defining a little better how to tell the difference between the different types of milk/juice containers, since Tetra-Brik containers ARE recyclable (at least according to some other sites I’ve just seen), but they may be mistaken for “waxed” containers.
    Perhaps a requirement for manufacturers of these paper products, including pizza boxes, wax paper, to make it ABSOLUTELY clear what IS or IS NOT recyclable for the average consumer (who cares):
    we all know how to look for the ubiquitous recycling symbol: three arrows in a rounded triangle shape going clockwise—how hard would it be to have a clearly delineated NOT-RECYCLABLE symbol on every type of packaging (same symbol surrounded by a circle with a diagonal line through it)?

  3. Hi Amanda,

    I have seen websites in magazines that say they recycle paper chip bags and juice containers (capri suns and things of that nature) but the one I tried to send my items to wasn’t taking anything I had. Do you have information on a place that recycles these types of items? Thanks.

  4. in response to Kelley 12/26/09, the website you are looking for to “upcycle” those particular items (chip bags & capri sun bags) is They actually encourage schools and organizations to collect these items as a fundraiser — TerraCycle will pay money for them, and then they make other products out of them. “Upcycling” avoids the usual excess energy used to “recycle” a product, by never bothering to break the item down, but instead re-using it in it’s existing state, but for a different purpose.

  5. Julie Gee – I would contact your local recycler and ask them if they accept juice and milk cartons. A great majority of places do not accept them because they do not have the capability of removing the wax coating from the containers.

    DrT – The chasing arrows does NOT mean an item is recyclable. It is simply part of a poorly designed symbol to indicate what type of plastic the object is made of.

    Kelley – You’re thinking of TerraCycle. Google it to get more info.

    Most curbside recycling programs do a good job stating what they do and do not accept. When it doubt, don’t just guess. Give them a call and find out.

  6. I worm compost… Have put various types of coated paper in with success. If coated with plastic, I simply remove plastic when worms have finished. I first soak in rainwater and then rip up and add with kitchen scraps…. Have done this with pizza boxes, Burger joint, coffee cups. etc…

  7. Love this discussion about Poly-coated white paper stock- (milk and juice cartons, ice cream cartons, one-side poly-coated disposable coffee cups) As these are ALL recoverable materials.
    Most curbside/drop-site programs accept them and they go into a mixed paper, news and grayboard stream for mills, their percentage in the mix is soo low that its considered a contaminate but under 10% of the total stream coming into a mill for recycling so usually its ok… Great Lakes Tissue in Cheboygan Michigan makes recycled content toilet paper and they LOVE this poly-coated stuff because its valuable WHITE paper under there! ( and white paper for all you recyclers out there as you know is our most valuable commodity! ) AS a small rural recovery program our challenge is seperating poly-coated white fiber from the other fiber stream enough to make a 1,000 lb bale to ship out efficiently BEFORE the smelly school milk cartons rot on our bale storage room floor. aahhh the challenges of recycling and scale in rural America!

  8. These days, it seems as though ALMOST everything is, technically, recyclable, but, whether or not whatever it is can be accepted for recycling in a specific region can be another matter altogether.

    When I bake cookies, I don’t use either parchment paper OR wax paper, I use Baker’s Joy non-stick baking spray. I do, however, use wax paper to line cookie tins.

  9. Appreciate detail in Lindsey’s answer. I participate in a little bit of civil disobedience putting in items that I think should be recycled so that waste management, as the items go through, see what people are willing to recycle. I wash off all paper food cartons and if there are no grease stains, put them with paper. I put all clear plastic clamshells through (after washing, of course).

    Problem with recycling symbols is that it is dependent on where you live, what your local waste management accepts as well as other places in your community, or otherwise, that you can drop off. There are even differences in neighboring cities served by the same waste management. The city next to us is a test community and they can recycle food scraps but we can’t. If you are computer savvy, consider starting up a website for your community or area that tracks where what can be recycled and maintain it as options change frequently. We could recycle block styro until last October, no longer. The variety in our community includes: waste management pickup of bottles, cans, most paper, batteries, yard waste; waste management dropoff of metals, electronic waste, toxics; non-profits collecting ink-cartridges and cell phones & asceptic packaging (juice pouches); Office Max accepting old CD’s & DVDs; Sheriff’s office accepting old meds.

  10. Claire – That has to be the most stupid thing you can do. If you want change, contact the recycling company. Joe Worker on the assembly line doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about your “civil disobediance”. You’re causing contamination and that’s not cool.

  11. Actually, Claire’s civil disobedience is the way change happens. You can call and talk to the recycling company or your local government (usually a big client of the company or sometimes having their own operations), but many officials will say, “Well, most people don’t want to recycle that stuff.” But, if it keeps showing up on their assembly line, they won’t be able to keep saying that. And, a smart recycling center owner will see those items as potential profit. It happened where I lived before and I’m trying to get it to happen where I live now.

  12. I was wondering what the difference between waxed paper cups and plastic lined paper cups are?

  13. Hi, the company i work for manufactures bread wrappers, made from a waxed paper, can anyone tell me if there is a use or process to convert the waste material into another bi-product ?. At present is gets collected and goes to a land fill site.

  14. How about Soybean wax paper or Unbleached wax paper?

    Are they easily recycled?

    Are they easily decomposed?

    Are the factories producing these products environmently friendly?

    Are they causing a damage to the environment?

    If you could answer these I would deeply tthank you for giving your time.


  15. i’ve been upcycling so to speak for years with all the experiments i do with materials on hand. with the waxed paper cups i throw them into a big pot of water and boil them outside. as the wax melts and floats to the top, i scoop it out and put the wax into a separate container to harden. when theres no more to melt off i let it cool and use the slurry for paper making. The wax gets turned into blocks that are either used to make crayons or in some cases candles. In terms of the plastic bread wrappers and plastic grocery bags i find everywhere, i cut those into strips and crochet reusable grocery bags out of them. I get old abandoned sweaters and knitted clothes that have holes or stains, and unravel them to make newer items. The only thing I havent figured out what to do with is also the most prevalent and dangerous type of litter- ciggarette butts. I am sure there is a way of detoxing them , and separating the paper from the fibers within- but once they are cleaned and separated- any idea? Has anyone used them as art materials or even as a filler/ base for sculptures? I would love to hear from anyone about this. There are tons of butts littering the sidewalks in front of the place i live and the smokers ignore the ash trays-

  16. FYI- By added non-recyclable items to your recycleable material you will NOT encourage companies to recycle non recycables. You WILL CREATE EXTRA COST FOR YOURSELVES! Non recyclables have to be removed from the material before baling and being sent to the mills. There’s a labor cost invovled and disposal fee to send those items to a landfill. Those charges are then passed to residents via their garbage and recycling collection fees, or in some cases water bills. You aren’t helping the environment because even the mIlls have to landfill the material irresponsible residents add to their curbside recycling.

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