April 6, 2009

Year 2, Week 42 Results: .05 oz of plastic waste

It was a pretty great week, plastickly speaking. But for some plastic envelope windows, I’d have had almost none. And speaking of envelope windows, various readers have suggested that they are made from glassine and not really plastic. The full answer is that while some envelope windows are indeed made from glassine (a recyclable paper product), others may be made from polystyrene, polypropylene, polyester, or acetate. And nowadays, a few envelope windows are made from compostable PLA. (Reference: The EMA Guide to Envelopes & Mailings [PDF])

The trouble is that you can’t always tell the difference. Some envelopes come printed with content information. For example, the Sierra Club’s mailings always state that the envelope is made from recycled paper and glassine and is fully recyclable. I don’t include those in my tally. But if this information isn’t provided, I have to assume they are plastic.

But what about the fact that recyclers accept the windows as well as the paper envelope? Don’t they recycle the plastic too? Um… no. They accept the plastic windows because they are easily separated from the paper during the pulping process, and the plastic washes away. But once again, there’s that question: Where is away? This is why I remove the plastic windows and add them to my tally.

For me, the biggest question is: Why do we need a window patch (as they are called by the envelope industry) at all? What’s wrong with empty windows? The mailings from Credo Long Distance have no window patch at all, and they arrive just fine.

Okay, end of envelope lecture.

Here’s the full tally for last week. It’s all new plastic waste:

  • 2 plastic seals from glass bottles of New Chapter supplements.
  • 3 plastic envelope windows. From Kaiser Permanente, from my insurance broker, and one whose contents I can’t remember. The Kaiser envelope contained a patient survey which offered the option of switching to online surveys in the future. So I’ve made the switch, and there will be one less future envelope window.
  • 2 plastic envelope windows from tax documents. It’s that time of year, isn’t it? I’ve finally gotten around to doing our taxes. *Sigh*

Announcement: Next week I will be hosting the Green Moms Carnival right here at Fake Plastic Fish. And because I am the host and get to determine the topic, all the carnival posts will have something to do with plastic. If you’d like to participate in the carnival, please either email me or the carnival at greenmomscarnival [at] gmail [dot] com. You don’t have to have children to participate. You don’t even have to have a vagina. That’s how inclusive this bunch is.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hi Bronwyn. As far as I know, bubble wrap envelopes are not recyclable.

14 years ago

Thanks so much for this post. A related thing I've always wondered about: bubble-wrap envelopes. You know, those ones that are paper on the outside but bubble wrap on the inside. Anyone know if they are recyclable? I'm guessing that the bubble-wrap part is plastic and that they are not recyclable because of the effort it would take to separate the paper from plastic. But maybe they are, if this pulping process you refer to is really good. Any wisdom?

14 years ago

I've been wondering about the envelopes & the windows too…

In the past, we just reused the envelopes for writing notes, & I hate to say they usually ended up in the furnace along with most of the rest of the paper.. (we have a wood furnace, not easy to get the fire started without paper, hmm..)

I wish all envelopes and ALL other paper products were clearly marked with regard to contents & dyes & chlorine or other chemicals used..
Even some 'eco' paper here in Slovenia is made of unidentifiable contents?!!

I re-use the envelopes as 'mini folders' now, they're great for mini 'project management'! (just write the name of the project on the envelope, & put related paper into it)
I've used them for collecting monthly bills too..

not sure what will be done end-of-cycle, at least I can use them this way for quite some time & avoid buying plastic folders or binders!

John, do you just send back the envelope windows in an envelope (or small package) to the bank?! lol!! what a nifty idea!! :)
how many do you send at a time? yearly amount or..?
with a note explaining it, & what you expect from them, I expect?

14 years ago

Speaking of taxes, instead of throwing away window envelopes, I use them to store my receipts each month–I just write June 2008 on the front of the envelope and bundle them with a rubber band at the end of the year to put in storage (my dad’s a stickler about keeping such things for seven years…so right now I’m just filing them away.

My school (MIT) uses a single stream recycler, and windowed envelopes are actually okay…there’s some sort of amazing laser system that sorts, and I’m not sure if they just bundle the window envelopes with everything, or if they sort them out.

Christy B.
14 years ago

Susan B,

Not every company uses the plastic/glassine/cello window.

As Beth mentioned, Credo doesn’t. My local gas, water and electric utilities don’t. I’m pretty sure that Co-op America doesn’t. There are others as well, just can’t think of them!

If the envelope that caused the lockdown had had a plastic/glassine/cello window how would that have changed the outcome? Wherever it had picked up the debris, that debris would have just been the the crevices/seams of the plastic/glassine – at least that’s how I see it!

Susan B
14 years ago

Re having a plastic/glasscine/whatever window versus an open hole for the address to show through — during the post-9/11 anthrax days, back in the days when some envelopes still just had holes, my office received an envelope which in addition to the letter contained white debris and were put into a 2 hour lockdown by local hazmat. It was just some debris that got in the envelope but the envelope had passed through what was eventually identified as the contaminated post office processing center in NJ. So while this doesn’t answer why not just print on the envelope (cost-savings of course) I think it along with idenity theft concerns explains at least one reason why everything has a window now — prevent tampering of any variety.

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Jessica,

Full cycle means no waste, Zero Waste, at any point of a production process. To have this, each stage would have to accept full responsibility for materials used. In the current system the “buck” is passed eventually to the consumer. Some consumer are now saying – no more plastic.

I return this type of plastic waste (window) to source to encourage the sender to change his/her unthinking attitude to the waste issue. If everyone does this the situation will change more quickly.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
14 years ago

John — can you explain more about what you mean by “full cycle”? Are you implying that you are sending them somewhere to be reused?

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

The “window” shows the postal address, saving a second print of the details, and time for reprinting.

Full cycle is worth promoting, so I full cycle the waste windows back to a source, in a return stamped envelope.

You are approaching the end of 3 years in plastic waste collection which is an excellent effort. Having just completed year 1 of a 5 year binbag challenge, I too am just as keen to reduce plastic waste generally.

14 years ago

I never thought about the little wasteful windows before! I love your site!

14 years ago

One thing that really gets me is that my bank does some envelopes windowed, and some not – for all statements (my credit card refuses to be viewed online) they simply have a machine that STAMPS your name and address on the envelope! ta da! no plastic window…but for anything else, it’s windowed. why?

Sera in NZ

Radical Garbage Man
14 years ago

But once again, there’s that question: Where is away?

As usual, the answer is THE LANDFILL! [ding, ding ding]

All recycling centers have their own waste streams and that’s where the windows go.

As usual, the cost-benefit analysis on this is that it’s better to recycle the envelope and landfill the little window than not to recycle at all.

And, as usual, Beth has asked the REAL question: why do we need to create the waste to begin with?

14 years ago

Always with the coincidences. We both mentioned the concept of ‘away’ on our blogs today :)

I remember a Canadian TV ad from when I was young with a fisherman telling his son to throw an empty container ‘away’ and the kid asking some kind of guilt inspiring question to which the father insisted that when you throw stuff ‘away’ that is where it goes…’AWAY’

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
14 years ago

I was told my my local recycling centre that I can’t recycle envelopes. I asked if this was because of the windows and offered to remove the windows before putting them in the recycling bin but they said no, it was because of the glue that holds the envelopes together. Anybody else come across this?