Can you recycle staples?

In this short discussion we will answer the question “Can you recycle staples?” by first knowing the material composition of staples and what factors affect the quality of the staples. We will also discuss in detail the different aspects of recycling staples with or without papers and know if these are compostable. Finally, we will delve into the type of staple that is used for medical surgeries and how they are taken care of.

What are staples made of?

There are numerous documents and paperwork that any working professional has to take care of. The proper stacking of paper in correct order prevents unnecessary confusion. Most of the time these documents are numbered but keeping them together is of utmost importance and that is what the staples do. These are tiny, 2-prong shaped metal that is punched through the bundle of papers and the two ends are curved inwards so that it can stay without coming out.  

A mechanical device called stapler is used to precisely push the ping down the paper. This way you can staple the papers either at one end so that the papers can be turned easily off at multiple ends to form a booklet. In either case staples bind together the pages of papers so that it can be carried easily for your work. 

To hold these stacks of papers or other similar objects these staples need to be stronger and so for most of the regular uses, staples are made of steel wires coated with zinc. These are called galvanized steel because coating with zinc gives them better resistance to corrosion and makes these staples more durable. These steel wires are glued together and bend to form a long strip of staple. 

For some applications these steel wires in the staples are coated with copper to give a more aesthetic appearance. Such staples are used to seal transport packaging as it is durable in non-humid conditions. However, these need to be taken special care as these copper oxidize easily in hot or acidic conditions. Aluminum staples are for high end works where these are used for stapling wood materials. These are also more resistant to corrosion than the galvanized steel. 

Photo Courtesy: iStock. Staples on wood

What are the different types of staples?

Different types of staples are made for different applications. Since staples help to bind two things, the shape, material, and size of staple varies based on the required application.

The types of stapes can be understood better when classified based on the following characteristics.

  • Type of wire used
  • Type of crown of the staple
  • Staple length
  • Type of coating used

Since staples are made from gluing the steel wires together, the thickness of the wires can differ based on the application and is classified as fine, medium, and heavy wires. Staples with fine wires are used for delicate applications like attaching fabric to wood or plastic. The medium wire staples are used for a little more sophisticated work where it provides a good holding power and heavy wires are used when you need substantial holding power as in case of joining on wood or plastic on thick surfaces.

The crown is the top middle part of the staples attached to the two legs and depending on its length the staples can be classified as narrow, middle, and wide crowns. When you want to hide your staple pin, narrow pins can be your choice as they have the smallest crown and are easy to hide. Staples with medium and wide crowns have much more applications than the narrow one where esthetics are not necessary.

Another factor to consider for good binding of the staples to the material is to have a correct proportion of leg length to the crown. The staple length also depends on the type of application as for thick surfaces, the staple length should be long. All these factors are considered when staples are made to increase its versatility in many applications.

Can you recycle staples?

Staples are made from steel or aluminum which are completely recyclable, however, these need to be separated from the material it’s used with. Most staples are used to bind papers or cardboards which are sent for recycling. It is not necessary to remove the staples as these will be removed at the recycling center to process the paper. 

However, it is a good practice to trash papers after removing the staples as these can be sent to the recycling separately. Just collect the stapes from paper or cardboard trash and keep them in a jar. Once it is full you can send them for recycling and if you are a regular user of staples, you need to trash once in a month so no need to have a frequent visit to your local recycling center. 

You can also collect these staples safely in a jar and use them for DIY crafts or decorations. Just remember to turn its ends inward so that it doesn’t poke anyone. Staples are removed at the recycling center very carefully so that it does not affect the quality of the recycled product. 

After separating staples from paper, they recycle them both separately. So you can use staples as wisely as possible but remember to discard them in the recycling bin else it will end up in landfill and the sharp metal edges will make disposal harder. Its shiny appearance also attracts birds which mistake them for food causing unfortunate incidents.

Can staples go to compost with papers?

Materials that are degraded by microorganisms of the soil can be composted. The purpose of the composting is to give nutritional benefits to the soil and hence most of the compost consists of vegetable or plant waste products. The process where microorganisms are capable of breaking down materials are called biodegradation. 

All natural biodegradable materials are compostable so when we discuss staple, the answer is that these are not biodegradable and hence are not compostable. Since staples are made of steel metal these are not degraded by microorganisms but they eventually rust off and break away after many years. Thus now that we know that staples are not biodegradable and hence not compostable they are better taken care of at the recycling centers.

How do surgical staples differ from paper staples?

Staples also find application in medicine where they are used to close a surgical incision. Most of the surgical staples are made from stainless steel or titanium because of the durability of these metals. Plastic staples are also now common as some patients develop allergies and infection from the use of metals. 

Since these are not reabsorbed by the body nor do they degrade, these needs to be removed after the healing is complete. Most of the surgical staples remain for 21 days after the surgery while some that are used during C-section should not be removed before 7-10 days.  The process of removing these staples is much easier and less painful than the conventional sutures. 

Most interestingly, now there are absorbable staples available that are degradable and absorbed by the body. These types of staples are made from polylactide-polyglycolide copolymer that needs no removal and hence leave no noticeable scar after healing.

stitched stomach

Photo Courtesy: iStock. Surgical Staples.


In this short report we have discussed the question “Can you recycle staples?” by answering some of the most relevant questions related to the material composition of staples, its different types, and its recyclability. We have also discussed the different types of staples that are used in hospitals during surgery and they are better than the surgical sutures.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Can you recycle staples?

Are used staples recyclable?

Yes, used staples are completely recyclable as these are made of steel or aluminum which are 100% recyclable. Make sure that it is collected properly before being dumped into the recycling bin as the tiny pins if left unattended can cause harm to others.

Do I need to remove staples before recycling cardboard?

Can I put staples in paper recycling?

You can put staples in the recycling bin along with papers. The personnels at the recycling center will remove the staples, tapes, paper clips or other materials that can possibly contaminate the recycling of papers. Once collected these are separately recycled which is to a great extent eco-friendly that being dumped in landfills.

Can you melt staples?

Yes staples can be melted to reuse for making ornaments or tiny crafts. However, for some staples such as steels, it needs high temperature which could be attained in an industrial set up. Staples made with zinc, tin, aluminum can be melted with a handheld blow torch as they have lower melting point. 

What are staples made of?

Most of the traditional staples that you see in offices and schools are made of steel wires that are glued together and bend to form the shape. The steel wires are usually coated with zinc as this helps with the durability of steel staples and increases resistance to corrosion. In some cases these steels are coated with copper as these are most useful in sealing cardboards for packaging. 

Staples made of aluminum are also available that are much more resistant to corrosion than the galvanized steel staples.

Do staples need to be removed before shredding?

Yes, staples need to be removed from the paper before shredding as this will contaminate the recycling process. Most recycling centers remove the staples before the papers are sent for recycling.Most household, academic institutions, and offices collect these staples to be sent to recycling separately once in a month. 

What is the difference between stapler and staples?

Stapler is a mechanical device that holds the staple in the correct position inside them. With the use of a stapler, staples can be inserted into the material with ease. Staplers also bend the legs of the pin after inserting in the material so that it holds the paper together without falling off.