Sustainability made simple

How Paper Is Recycled: The Process, Explained

How is paper recycled
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures

We use paper every day, but how is it recycled? Read on to learn what types of paper can be recycled, and for tips to reduce your new paper use.

The first US paper mill, The Rittenhouse Mill was opened in 1690, and today paper recycling makes up a huge segment of the recycling industry, which aims to cut down on the consistent production of new resources by recycling existing resources for re-use.

How much paper is actually recycled? Paper is one of the world’s most recyclable materials — it is estimated by the EPA that in 2018, sixty-eight percent of paper and cardboard products were recycled.

In this piece, we will discuss how paper recycling works, the types of paper products that can be recycled, what they can be recycled into, and how.

Why Do We Recycle Paper?

By recycling paper instead of creating new paper materials from trees, we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions connected with the paper production process — it takes 70 percent less water to recycle paper, compared to producing new paper from fresh pulp. It also saves resources and maximizes the use of what we already have.

It is estimated that paper can be recycled between four to six times, but not endlessly. This is because the fibers become weaker each time it is recycled. Rather than leaving it cluttering up your home — or worse, a rubbish dump — make use of your curbside recycling or drop-off. Plus, when paper breaks down it can produce methane or emit carbon dioxide — another reason to keep it in the recycling loop.

What Paper Products Can Be Recycled

What paper products can be recycled?
What paper products can be recycled?
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Lisy_)

A whole range of paper products can be recycled at paper mills across the country. Newspapers, old notebooks, envelopes without the plastic windows, and those old phone books you have at the back of the cupboard can all be recycled. Read more about it on the American Forest & Paper Association’s website or check your local municipality’s website for a more specific guide tailored to your area.

Unfortunately, some products, like shredded paper or receipts that use thermal paper can be more problematic in paper recycling.

How Paper Is Recycled

How is paper recycled? It takes quite a few steps.
How is paper recycled? It takes quite a few steps.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / anaterate)

The paper recycling process step-by-step:

  1. Paper recycling is collected from the various collection points and put into a large recycling bin.
  2. The paper recycling is sorted into different types and grades and all possible contaminants, such as paper, glass, or other trash, removed. The papers is stored in bales until the paper mill needs them.
  3. At the mill, large machines called pulpers shred the paper into small bits which are then mixed with water and chemicals to break down the paper fibers further. At this point, it undergoes a heating process which turns it into a pulp.
  4. The mixture is then put through a series of screens to remove further contaminants, for example  adhesives and inks.
  5. Next, the pulp is mixed with new pulp to form a firmer end product. This mixture is then spun in a cone-shaped cylinder (a centrifugal cleaning machine) to spin more of the debris from the paper pulp.
  6. This is then sent through another machine that sprays the mixture onto the conveyor belt where the paper fibers begin to bond together.
  7. The paper is dried by heated metal rollers and put onto large rolls, which can be used to make new paper products.

What Happens to Paper That Is Recycled

A collage made from upcycling old bits of paper.
A collage made from upcycling old bits of paper.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Martina_Bulkova)

One of the most commonly used recycled paper products is office paper. But in recent years we have also seen a rise in products like recycled toilet paper and tissues, kitchen rolls, napkins, cardboard, and even greeting cards, newspapers, and magazines.

You can also recycle paper products yourself into your own artistic creations!

Read more:

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