Can Paper Napkins & Paper Cups Be Recycled?


With the challenge to reduce the pounds of trash per household, many questions arise regarding what items can be recycled, including paper napkins and cups. The short answer is that it depends.

Paper Cups

  • Most paper cups have a plastic resin (polyethylene) coating that makes them waterproof. This resin releases methane gas, so coated cups cannot be recycled. Many chain coffee shops now use post-consumer recycled paper for their cups, and offer bins to recycle them.

Paper Napkins

  • Paper napkins are recyclable. The fiber breaks down easily and is recycled into new paper products


  • An exception to recycling any paper cup or napkin is if oil contaminates it. Oil keeps the paper fibers from breaking down during the recycling process. Examples of oils include cheese, cold cuts and meat broths (such as in soups).

When in Doubt...

  • Throw it out. Greasy paper or plastic resin will create vapors that contaminate the recycling process and offset any altruistic plans to recycle the paper.

Reusable Cups and Napkins

  • The best way to avoid wondering if a paper napkin or cup can be recycled is to use reusable napkins and cups. Many retail stores offer a discount for using your own mug.

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