Are Paper Clips Recyclable (and How to Do It?)

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You probably use paper clips on a daily basis, but have you ever thought about what happens to them when you're done with them?

Obviously, just tossing them into the trash is not the way to go.

But are paper clips recyclable? And do they affect the paper recycling process if they are not removed?

Spare me just 5 minutes of your time and I will answer all these questions and more...

Can a Paper Clip be Recycled?

Yes, paper clips can be recycled - as long as they are separated from other types of waste. Most paper clips are made of steel wire, which is a recyclable material.

However, the recycling process is not as simple as just tossing your paper clip into the recycling bin.

Paper clips are too small to be sorted along with other metals, so they must be separated from other materials before they can be recycled.

Once the steel has been separated, it can be melted down and reused to make new products.

How Do You Get Rid of Paper Clips?

Don't throw paper clips away in your curbside recycling bin.

Gather them together in a jar or container, and when you have enough to make it worthwhile, you can take them to your local recycling center or scrap metal yard, which will gladly accept them.

Of course, you should only do this if the paper clip is damaged and no longer usable. There are plenty of ways to reuse, recycle and upcycle them instead.

What Else Can You Do With Old Paper Clips?

reuse paper clips

Reuse Them Yourself

This is the best and simplest option. It saves time and money, and helps get you into that zero waste habit albeit in just a small way.

Paper clips are reusable almost indefinitely, so instead of throwing them away, keep a small collection in your desk drawer and you'll always have one handy when you need it.

Give Them Away

Local schools and charities will always be happy to accept donations of any type, especially office stationery such as paper clips. So if you find yourself with a surplus, you can donate them in bulk and help those organizations save a little money.

Upcycle Them

If you have paper clips that are a little rusty or too badly bent out of shape to be reusable for their original purpose, there are many other ways to make use of them.

You can make jewelry, keyrings, or hundreds of different arts and crafts projects which are perfect for you or your kids. Check out this Pinterest page for some amazing ideas.

Do You Have to Remove Staples and Paper Clips Before Recycling Paper?

If you send mixed paper or corrugated cardboard for recycling and it still has binder clips, staples, and paper clips attached, it will not prevent the paper products from being recycled.

However, the metal itself won't be recycled, so that isn't really what you want. For this reason, it is better to remove paper clips before you put any paper in the recycling bin.

You can then reuse or recycle paper clips separately.

If you have sensitive documents that you need to shred then you should certainly remove paper clips first, as they could damage your shredder. Then just place the shredded paper in your recycle bin as normal.

Are Paper Clips Biodegradable?

Metal paper clips are biodegradable, as the metal will eventually rust and break up over time, but they are likely to take a very long time to break down.

Also, any metal paper clips that contain lead are likely to harm the soil. For this reason, even though they are small, it is better to keep paper clips out of landfill space.

Plastic paper clips will not biodegrade. Like plastic bags, they will simply pollute the environment indefinitely.

You can also get biodegradable paper clips these days, that are made from natural materials. Check out some of the leading zero waste stores to see which ones stock these and other eco-friendly stationery products.

Are Metal Paper Clips Toxic?

Metal paper clips are not toxic or harmful to humans. However, if they contain lead they may be harmful to the environment if they are disposed of in a landfill.

Bear in mind that a paper clip could have been exposed to germs or dirt over its life span, so you should keep them away from children, and away from your mouth and eyes.

If you have a paper bag containing food that has been sealed by staples, then this is not something you should be concerned about.

Plastic paper clips are, like any other plastics, made from petroleum and therefore might contain some toxic chemicals.

How Long Does a Paper Clip Last?

If they are well looked after, paper clips made from metal or plastic can last a very long time.

That is why you should not throw out or recycle a used paper clip unless it is damaged or rusty. If it is treated well, it can be reused almost indefinitely.

Are Paper Clips Compostable?

Paper clips made from metal or plastic are not compostable.

Paper clips made from paper are suitable for home composting. However, before you add them to your compost bin, check that they don't contain any dyes or colorants that might be harmful to your soil.

Are Paper Clips Bad for the Environment?

Metal or plastic paper clips are bad for the environment if they are thrown away in the trash and end up in a landfill.

However, if they are reused or recycled then paper clips are not particularly hazardous from an environmental perspective.

The Final Word

Paper clips are something that most of us use but because of their small size, not many people give them much consideration when it comes to recycling.

For that reason, many end up in landfills which is a waste of natural resources, energy, and also a potential contaminant of the soil.

Instead of throwing them away, you can reuse paper clips many times while they still remain in good condition. After that, they can be recycled in bulk as scrap metal, or repurposed in craft projects.

Remember that the small things add up. So next time you remove paper clips from a document, resist the temptation to throw them in the trash. Put them to one side and use them again instead.

Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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