Submitted: The Two Sides Team March 21, 2013
In 2011, 66.8 percent of paper consumed in the United States was recycled. Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, and if you measure by weight, more paper is recovered for recycling than plastic, aluminum and glass combined.
March 19, 2013
by Kathryn Sukalich, via Earth911
In 2011, 66.8 percent
of paper consumed in the United States was recycled. Every ton of paper
recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, and if you
measure by weight, more paper is recovered for recycling than plastic,
aluminum and glass combined. Paper is a material that we’re used to
recycling, since 87 percent of us have access to curbside or drop-off recycling for paper.
Additionally, 76 percent
of paper mills used some recovered paper in 2011, so the paper you
throw into the bin is finding its way into plenty of new products. The
process of recycling old paper into new paper might sound like it would
be complex, but in reality, it’s pretty straightforward. If you’re
feeling ambitious, you could even try to recreate this process yourself
using everything from old wrapping paper to junk mail. On an industrial
scale, though, paper recycling allows us to save both energy and
resources. By recycling one ton of paper we save 17 trees, 7,000 gallons
of water and 463 gallons of oil, according to the EPA. Keep reading to find out how the process works and how you can make sure you recycle paper correctly.
How Paper Recycling Works
After you put paper in your recycling bin, it’s taken to a recycling
center where contaminants such as plastic, glass or trash are removed.
Next, the paper is sorted into different grades. For example, newspaper
is a lower grade paper because it has already been recycled numerous
times, while printer paper is higher grade paper. The grade of paper is
determined by fiber length, which shortens after each trip through the
recycling process. After being recycled five to seven times, the fibers
become too short to make new paper and will need to be mixed with virgin
fibers, according to the EPA.
Ever heard that paper has “seven generations”? That phrase refers to
how many times paper can be recycled before its fibers become too short.
Once paper is sorted, it will be stored in large bales until a mill
needs it, and then it will be transferred to the mill for processing. At
the mill, large machines process large quantities of paper at a time.
First, the paper will be shredded
into small pieces by a pulper, which also contains water and chemicals.
This mixture is heated, and the pieces of paper break down into their
fibers. This pulp is forced through a screen to remove adhesives and
other remaining contaminants.
Next, the paper will be spun in a cone-shaped cylinder to clean it, and sometimes ink will also be removed.
At this point, the pulp is sent through a machine that sprays it onto a
conveyor belt. Water will drip through the belt’s screen, and the paper
fibers will start bonding together. Then heated metal rollers will dry the paper, and the paper will be put onto large rolls, which can be made into new paper products.
How You Can Recycle Properly
Now that you understand how paper gets made into new paper, you need
to know how you as a consumer can recycle properly. For example, you
might occasionally find yourself with a type of paper you’re unsure what
to do with. In those situations, understanding some basic paper terms –
for different kinds of paper and different kinds of recycling – can
help you put the right materials in the right bin.
Paper Grades – There are five basic paper grade categories, according to the EPA.
While these terms may be most useful to paper mills looking to process
certain kinds of paper, you may hear these terms once in a while, and
it’s possible you’ll need to be able to distinguish between them.
- Old Corrugated Containers – You might know this as “corrugated cardboard.” It’s most often found in boxes and product packaging.
- Mixed Paper – This is a broad category of paper that includes things like mail, catalogs, phone books and magazines.
- Old Newspapers – This one is pretty self-explanatory. Mills use
newspapers, a lower grade paper, to make more newsprint, tissue and
- High Grade Deinked Paper – This quality paper consists of things
like envelopes, copy paper and letterhead that has gone through the
printing process and had the ink removed.
- Pulp Substitutes – This paper is usually discarded scraps from
mills, and you probably won’t have to worry about running into it,
though it may find its way into products you buy.
Collection – As a consumer, you will need to know
whether paper can go in your curbside recycling bin, and if so, whether
it needs to be separated.
- Single-Stream – This type of collection allows you to put all
recyclables like glass, plastic and paper in one container.
Single-stream collection makes the process easy for those who wish to
recycle and it requires fewer trucks for collection.
- Sorted-Stream – This type of collection requires residents to
separate certain kinds of recyclables. You may be asked to put all mixed
paper in one container or to separate paper waste more specifically. If
you have sorted-stream recycling, check local regulations before
throwing paper in the recycling bin.
Paper Recycling Conundrums
Once you know what kind of paper recycling is available to you and
which types of paper are recyclable, you might still have some questions
about paper recycling. Here are a few common items that cause
Shredded Paper – Ever wondered whether shredded paper can be recycled? The answer is yes, though you may encounter some restrictions regarding the size of the shredded pieces and the way the paper is contained. Check with your local recycling program for specific information.
Staples & Paper Clips – Believe it or not, equipment at paper mills that recycle recovered paper is designed to remove
things like staples and paper clips, so you don’t need to remove them
before recycling. It is probably in your best interest to remove paper
clips, though, so they can be reused.
Sticky Notes – If your local recycling program accepts mixed paper, it will most likely accept sticky notes.
Paper mills that process mixed paper are able to remove adhesives. To
be on the safe side, check with your local program to make sure sticky
notes aren’t a problem.
The amount of paper recovered for recycling in 2011 averaged 338
pounds for each man, woman and child in the U.S., according to the American Forest & Paper Association
(AF&PA). By understanding how the process works and what you can do
to ensure recyclable paper doesn’t end up in a landfill, you can help
keep this number high.
For more information about recycling your own paper at home, check out: Simple Steps to Recycle Your Own Paper.
To learn about how to start paper recycling programs at work, school or in your community, read: 3 Places You Should Always Recycle Paper.