Glassine window in envelope, July 2020.
action challenge design ideas preservation

Down With Glassines!

Glassine window in envelope, July 2020.
Glassine window in envelope, July 2020.

When it comes to recycling, one of the biggest barriers to recycling specific materials is contamination. Contamination comes in the form of other materials being mixed in with the material that is bound for recycling.

For example, if you’re trying to recycle a cardboard box and there is grease or oil on it (think pizza box), the box can’t be recycled because of the oil.

In addition, the more materials an item is purposely made of, the harder the item becomes to recycle. Computers and other electronics have so many material components that they are especially challenging to dismantle for recycling.

Metal and paper seem to be the easiest materials to recycle for reuse. Plastics, not so much because it depends on the type of plastic. And plastic takes so long to degrade on its own that it may as well be considered permanent.

This is why I’ve developed a recycling pet peeve … glassine windows in envelopes. Though glassines are convenient for whoever is using these envelopes (normally large bulk mailing sales operations) because they don’t have to print an address on the envelope, they are awful for recycling.

If you want any of the envelope to be recycled, you can’t just chuck the envelope into the paper recycling bin whole. You’ve got to rip the glassine out first.

Aside from being an annoying bit of extra work, you have to throw the glassine in the garbage because it most certainly can’t be recycled. More plastic cluttering up our planet forever. Urgh.

Here’s my challenge to nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals: Stop using glassine envelopes in your operations. Use all-paper envelopes that you print or write addresses on or, if you still need a window and aren’t worried about the security of what’s inside (like marketing mailings), order envelopes with an opening that doesn’t have a glassine.

It can be done. I know because I’ve gotten mail in non-glassine envelopes and I sincerely appreciate it.

If you stop using glassine envelopes, manufacturers will stop making them. And we’ll have less plastic going in the trash or contaminating our paper for recycling.

Little actions that are more sustainable can make a world of difference when lots of us adopt them.