Why should you try your best to recycle your paper?
There are many reasons why you should recycle paper. Here are a few of the most important ones:
1. Recycling saves energy and resources. It takes less energy to recycle paper than it does to make new paper from virgin materials.
2. Manufacturing recycled paper creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than making new paper from cut down trees. Not to mention the amount of greenhouse gases those trees could be helping offset.
3. Recycling helps keep our air and water clean by reducing the amount of pollution created when making new paper from raw materials.
4. When you recycle paper, you help preserve forests by using recycled paper instead of virgin pulpwood. Aside from the natural beauty of forests, and the ecosystem they provide, they are also a great carbon sink. Keeping forests intact, is a huge imperative to help us fight climate change.
5. Since 94% of the US has access to some sort of recycling program and 73% have curbside recycling, it’s incredibly easy to recycle paper! All you need to do is put your recyclable papers in the blue bin and they will be turned into new products like cardboard boxes, tissue paper, or even more recycled paper!
How much paper is recycled in the US?
In the United States, paper is the most recycled material. Almost all of the paper that is produced in the US is recycled. The recycling rate for paper is about 60 percent. This means that almost two-thirds of all the paper that is produced in the US is recycled. Of all the materials in the United States that are recycled, paper and paperboard products account for over 66% of all recycled products by weight.
What types of paper are there?
There are different types and grades of paper that fall into 5 basic paper grade categories.
Old corrugated containers: Also called corrugated cardboard, it is typically recycled into shipping boxes or recycled paperboard for product packaging like cereal or shoe boxes.
Mixed paper: Mixed paper is the broadest paper category. It includes telephone books, paperboard, magazines, and discarded mail. It is typically recycled into tissue, paperboard, mixed into the production of new paper or mixed in as a raw material into non-paper products like cellulose insulation or egg cartons.
Old Newspaper: As you can imagine, the old newspaper category is just that…old newspapers. It is generally recycled into more newspapers. But can also be recycled into paperboard or tissue.
High Grade Deinked Paper: This category is comprised of paper products such as letterhead, copier paper or envelopes. The ink must be removed before it is remade into other high grade paper products.
Pulp substitutes: Typically consisting of excess materials from other paper milling or printing operations, pulp substitutes can be used in place of new wood pulp materials for the production of high grade papers.
Side note, while shredded paper is not considered its own category (it typically falls into the mixed paper category), it must be treated separately to ensure it is of the appropriate size and does not include contaminants, like plastics.
Papers are available in different weights, or thicknesses. The heavier the weight, the more durable the paper. Heavier-weight papers are also more expensive but also typically better for recyclability. With every recycling process, the fibers of the paper get shorter and shorter eventually leading to fibers that cannot be used without the addition of virgin fibers. On average, a paper fiber can only be recycled about 7 times before needing newer fibers.
How is paper recycled?
When people think about recycling, they often think about aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Paper is one of the most commonly recycled materials, but many people don’t know how it’s done.
- After an individual or business recycles their paper either by placing it in your curbside bin, the recycling bin at your office or a drop-off program, that paper is collected and sent to a paper recycling center.
- From there, it must first be sorted by grade, type and color. Once sorted, it will be baled. Essentially, the paper is bundled into tightly packed cubes until it is needed at a paper mill.
- Once a mill needs a certain type of paper, that bale will be transported to the mill and processed.
- Processing in this case means the bales will be sent through pulpers to shred the paper into smaller pieces.
- It is then sent through further processing, mixing with water and other milling chemicals to separate the paper into fibers.
- The slurry is then sent through a screening process to remove the chemicals, any contaminants, or adhesives.
- It is then quickly spun in a cylinder, similar to what you’d expect from your clothes washer. This process cleans the paper.
- From there, the paper slurry is put on a conveyor belt where the water starts to separate, the fibers start to bond to one another and, after being sent through several hot steel rollers, is spooled onto large rolls that can then be processed into various paper products.
You can reproduce this process at home using old newspaper or mail. Take the paper and blend it with water and then pour the mixture into a container with more water, this will help clean the fibers and separate them. Next, you can take a screen and pour the some of the mixture on to the screen to create your own recycled paper. Once dried, you’ve made your own recycled paper at home! This is a fun arts and crafts project and a great way to make and send personalized letters.
How to recycle paper at home or in the office?
When you’re looking to recycle paper and cardboard it is important to keep a few things in mind. The most important thing is to make sure the paper is clean. This means removing any food or grease stains. For this reason, it’s important to inspect food containers (think pizza boxes) before recycling. It is also important to remove any staples, paper clips, tape, or plastic from envelopes before recycling.
The next step is to decide what kind of paper to recycle. Most recycling centers will only accept certain types of paper. This includes newspapers, magazines, office paper, and cardboard boxes. Certain other papers, like sticky notes or other types of paper that contain adhesives are typically ok to place in your recycling bin as most centers are well-equipped to handle the removal of adhesives.
Once you have collected all the recyclable paper, it’s time to start recycling! This can be done by placing the paper in a designated recycle bin or taking it to a local recycling center. Taking just a few minutes to look through your paper recycling, removing any contaminants, small pieces of metal, or pieces of plastic can dramatically increase the likelihood of the paper in your bin being recycled and greatly reduce the amount of recycling contamination that recyclers will have to deal with.
If we all focus on this, we can continue to increase the rate at which paper is recycled, reducing the need for virgin materials, cutting down forests and decreasing the impact of paper on our carbon and greenhouse gas footprints. Let’s try to reach the goal of 70% paper recovery rate this year and keep improving!
While it’s important to recycle as much paper as you can, you can also work to improve recycling of other materials in your household, like plastics, glasses and metals.