What can I reuse or recycle to be an eco-friendly pen-pal?

Mary has asked a fun question:

I have a bit of a dilemma. I’m from Minnesota USA, and I have a pen pal in California. We love sending “snail mail” to each other in this day of somewhat impersonal emails/Facebook. While it’s very fun, I’ve recently been thinking about the waste. I keep the cards she sends me, but is there a way to purchase/make more eco friendly cards and envelopes? Thanks!

I’ve been thinking about going back to snail mail for keeping in contact with some people recently (to cut down my computer time) so this is a very well timed question!

You certainly can buy cards and envelopes made by upcycling old paper – old packaging, old maps, old books – all sorts of stuff. If you search for “recycled envelopes” on Etsy, you’ll see the range of stuff available (including ones from friend of Recycle This, SwirlyArts.) You could make your own if you’re that way inclined too.

Look around your home/office to see what you can reuse as writing paper – on my desk in front of me right now, I could use the white-side of some pretty-designed security envelopes, a brown paper bag or if I was feeling more delicate than I generally am, an old sewing pattern. I’d probably cut them neatly with a guillotine or straight scissors, but scrapbookers/papercrafters with the tools on hand could jazz them up with wavy scissors or punch designs. One pre-cut idea might be to use old blurry photos – the type that aren’t suitable for the photo album but look pleasantly abstract by themselves.

Another idea might be to use cards that will serve a different purpose once they arrive with your message – the most obvious idea is picking ones that are so pretty that they can be framed as art, either individually or if you fancy something bigger & bolder and a fun ongoing project, you could make your own large scale design (perhaps by decorating/upcycling card/cardboard packaging) and chop it into card size pieces for gradual reassembly at the other end. More practically, you could find/make a design for recipe cards or dividers for a seed box (or anything your penpal might use for a hobby) – print it on one side of your card/paper and write your message on the back.

A finally suggestion/question from me: it is, of course, better to Reduce than reuse or recycle – would it be possible to make a secure reusable envelope/pouch that could be sent back and forth? If it can be made from existing materials all the better – any ideas?

Any other suggestions for Mary?

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8 Responses to “What can I reuse or recycle to be an eco-friendly pen-pal?”

  1. Cipollina says:

    I use pages from magazines (the weekly glossy thing that comes with the newspaper) as envelopes, and cut/tear a small rectangle from some scrap of blank paper to write the address on.

    When I buy food that comes in a cardboard box I cut up the box for postcards. I make nice collages from the aforementioned magazines on the printed side and write on the blank.

    I also reuse envelopes by covering the address with a bit of scrap paper on which I write the new address – some “green” societies have environmentally friendly blank labels that you just wet like a stamp and glue onto old envelopes. These often have an environmentally friendly message printed along the edge, such as “reusing envelopes helps save the forests”.

    Look up “mail art” in an image search for inspiration.

  2. Christina P says:

    You could make your own paper. Its some work, but can be really fun! There’s tutorials all over the place online, should be fairly easy to find them.

    I rip out pages from old notebooks and save them all together, esp if there’s only a few in each notebook.

    Save the junk mail return envelope or the check return envelope from bills. Use that to mail letters. Just put scrap paper over whatever you need.

    You could make your own mailing envelopes. Use a washed chip or cookie bag to make it waterproof. Use bubble wrap or tissue paper to cushion. Use cardboard boxes from food if you need to send something that doesn’t bend. Or use them to mail items, if they are blank inside, flip them inside out to use for mailing, without having to cover them.

  3. Karmae says:

    My mother and I used the same birthday card for years! It had clear plastic laminate in it and we used it like a white board. I don’t know what the stuff is called, but you buy it in the fabric store to plastic up fabric. I’m sure other things would work too!

  4. Jim says:

    I love the reusable envelope idea… I don’t have any clue how you come up with these ideas, but they never cross my mind.

  5. Christina P says:


    You can make your own oilcloth. Its that waxy fabric that is used on outdoor furniture and stuff. Then you can use it as envelopes to mail to each other.


    This is the pattern the does NOT use linseed oil: http://imperfectlybeautifulms.blogspot.com/2010/09/make-your-own-oilcloth-fabric.html

  6. anna says:

    Make your own envelope, it’s easy.
    Take some ads/magazine pages/other cute paper you already have and that would look good as an envelope, and use an envelope of a desired size as the pattern. Try different ways to fold the envelope, and be creative. Scissors, a tiny amount of glue or tape and you’re set. If the paper isn’t too light colored for the address label you can write the address on a different piece of paper and glue/tape that for the address area.
    Or you could reuse the envelopes you already have by turning them inside out, but I think the former method looks more creative.
    And making your own packages the same way is fun too!

  7. Any letters I receive I like to reuse the envelope that they come in, and makes a great reuse of the material. You can even cut them out with corregated scissors to give it a more fancy look.

  8. Elijah says:

    Use Beet Juice to write with!
    Red writing looks cool

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