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What are the 10 steps of recycling paper, what type of paper you can & cannot recycle, and what are the benefits of recycling paper?
In this article, we will observe these & more common questions related to paper recycling, including:
- The 10 steps of recycling paper
- How many times can paper be recycled?
- 3 amazing benefits of recycling paper
- Which paper can & cannot be recycled? (list)
- Tips on reducing the use of paper
- Sum up
The 10-Step Process Of Recycling Paper:
Step 1 – Collection.
First, the paper is collected from recycling bins and taken to a local collection station. The paper waste is collected locally after consumer use from recycling bins in family buildings, offices, business areas, etc.
Step 2 – Separation.
After collection, it is transported to a recycling plant, where the waste paper is measured, sorted, and separated into types and grades.
The paper waste is separated and bundled based on composition, type, cleanliness, and grades.
There are 5 grades, which are determined by the length of the fibers:
- Old corrugated containers – cardboard, boxes, and product packaging.
- Mixed paper – mail, catalogs, phone books, and magazines.
- Old newspapers – newsprint, tissue, and other similar products.
- High-grade de-inked paper – envelopes, copy paper, and letterheads.
- Pulp substitutes – discarded scraps from mills.
Step 3 – Sending to a recycling plant.
After the paper is separated, the bundles are sent to a recycling paper mill facility for processing.
Step 4 – Shredding and breaking down.
The paper is added into a pulper which is fundamentally a giant blender. First, it’s the shredding of the paper.
After it is cut into small pieces, the next step is to add water and various chemicals (such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide, and sodium silicate), which help to dissolve paper fiber bonds.
The slurry mixture of paper, water, and chemicals, called “pulp”, is heated, and the pieces of the paper break down into fibers.
Step 5 – Filtering the contaminants.
The watery slurry mixture goes through a series of screens, that filters and removes chunks of dirt, glue, adhesives, tape, clips, and other remaining contaminants.
Step 6 – De-inking.
This step cleans the fibers of ink so they can be made into new paper. The ink used on a piece of paper won’t affect the recycling process, even though there are some exceptions.
The pulp is de-inked by sticking it in a chemical solution and blowing bubbles through it (the bubbles carry the ink off).
Step 7 – Thickeining and brightening.
The pulp then goes through a thickened and bleached process, which enhances the purity and whiteness of the product. Whitening agents like hydrogen peroxide may be added to further enhance the whiteness.
Sometimes, dyes are also added to create colored products. Usually, the pulp can be used alone, but sometimes they add virgin wood fiber to the pulp to give the paper extra strength or smoothness.
Step 8 – Drying.
Long sheets of semi-dried pulp are put through heated metal pressers and rollers which apply enough pressure to turn them into dry, smooth sheets of paper.
Step 9 – Rolling.
Different paper products are being made by adding various substances to the slurry, such as cardboard, newsprints, office paper, etc. Then, the paper is rolled up into huge rolls (weighing as many as 3 tones each).
Step 10 – Packaging & shipping back to stores.
The paper rolls are shortened into smaller sections it is sent onward for cutting, packaging, and shipping. Then, various manufacturers use paper to make their products.
These are the 10 steps of recycling paper in a recycling facility. However, you can also recycle paper at home!
If you are interested in learning how you can recycle paper at home, let me know in the comments and I can create a DIY guide.
How many times can paper be recycled?
Paper cannot be recycled infinitely. Usually, paper waste can be recycled between 5 – 7 times. The ability to be reused lowers every time it’s been recycled.
That is because the paper is made of long fibers, and every time is recycled, those fibers get shorter, which makes the recycling process harder.
Once the fibers get very small, they can be made into something like a “paper paste,” which can be used for egg cartons.
3 amazing benefits of recycling paper:
1. Recycling paper reduces greenhouse gas emissions
Paper waste is a big chunk of landfill waste; it accounts for about 25%. When paper rots in a landfill, it emits methane gas, which contributes to climate change it is about 25 times more powerful than CO2.
By disposing of paper correctly and focusing our aims on recycling it, we can reduce the emission of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.
2. It saves trees and reduces deforestation
Each year, we cut hundreds of trees and forests to produce paper. By recycling paper, we can cut this by a significant percentage.
Recycling paper is beneficial because it can reduce the demand for virgin tree fiber.
Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees!
3. Recycling paper saves resources
Recycling paper saves much more than trees. It saves a lot of energy, water, and landfill space. To be more exact, each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save:
- 17 trees
- 380 gallons of oil
- 3 cubic yards of landfill space
- 4000 kilowatts of energy
- 7000 gallons of water
Which paper can & cannot be recycled?
Not all paper is suitable for recycling. It is essential to recycle only paper that doesn’t include other materials (such as plastic) or paper contaminated with food, oil, or other substances that can’t be separated in the recycling process.
The recycling process involves mixing the paper with water, which turns into a pulp slurry. In addition, if the paper is contaminated with oil or food, it will ruin the whole mixture.
You can recycle the following types of paper:
- Paperboard (such as breakfast cereal boxes): They can be both recycled and composted.
- Cardboard: You can try to reuse it, and then you can put it in the paper bin to be recycled.
- Paper bags: You can recycle paper bags, but if the handles are made of another material, such as plastic, you should remove them first. Sometimes, it can contain glue (to attach handles or other components), but it is often water-soluble.
- Office paper, white paper, letters: This paper can be recycled into new printer paper or down-cycled into toilet paper.
- Junk mail – Brochures, catalogs, etc: You can recycle most “junk” mail, like flyers, catalogs, etc., and office paper items.
- Sticky notes: It depends. Usually, they can be recycled, since the adhesives can be removed, but that’s not always the case, so it is best to check with your local recyclers and ask.
- Greeting cards: Greeting cards are classified as mixed paper and you can recycle them unless they contain metal/plastic components.
- Glossy paper – Magazines, brochures, catalogs, etc: You can recycle glossy paper. Before recycling it, consider donating or giving away your magazines to libraries, waiting rooms, family shelters, nursing homes, etc.
- Shredded paper: Some places accept shredded paper. Check with your local recycling program since there might be restrictions regarding the size of the shredded pieces and the way the paper is contained. If you can’t recycle it – the shredded paper is ideal for composting.
Paper that you can’t recycle includes:
- Gift bags: Gift bags are often not recyclable because the paper is often mixed with plastic.
- Receipts: Receipts are coated with BPA and are not recyclable or compostable. Find more about why you can’t recycle receipts here.
- Parchment paper: If it has food waste or oil, it cannot be recycled. You can place it in your compost pile & consider switching to reusable silicone baking mats.
- Pizza box: Compost any oily and greasy parts of the pizza box. Separate & recycle the clean parts (if any).
- Dirty, wet, used, or stained paper: It can’t be recycled, but it can be composted. This includes pizza boxes, paper towels, paper plates, take-out boxes, baking paper, kids’ paintings, wet wipes, etc.
- Hygiene/sanitary products: Compost used tissues, napkins, wipes, and sanitary towels.
- Paper coffee cups or plates: They are lined with a thin coating of plastic that makes the cup waterproof to hold liquid. Separating the plastic from the paper is hard, so they are non-recyclable. However, if the paper cups are lined with polylactic acid (PLA) instead of polyethylene, they can be commercially composted in ~ 60 days.
- Paper straws: Usually not recyclable. That’s because most recyclers will not accept food-contaminated paper products.
- Paper products mixed with plastic: The recycling plants can’t successfully separate plastic and paper. This includes – foil-based gift wrapping, wallpaper and decoration paper, wax, plastic, or foil-coated paper, and candy wrappers.
- Milk/juice cartons: These carton boxes contain mixed materials and often have plastic linings. For example, Tetra Pak contains 75% paperboard, 20% polyethylene (plastic) and 5% aluminum. Even though they are recyclable, they include different materials that make them very hard to recycle.
- Paper packaging for frozen foods: Containers used to store frozen foods are lined with plastic and have a limited recycling market.
Tips on reducing the use of paper
1. Refuse things that you don’t need, such as:
- Junk mail – Put a sign saying that you want” Addressed mail only,” or directly return/contact the sender.
- Flyers, Brochures, Visit cards – you can take a picture with your phone if you need the information from the visit card/flyer without the physical item.
2. Choose digital – Check if you can use a digital version before printing and if you really must print something:
- Print only the pages that you need.
- Print on both sides of the paper.
- Use email rather than paper mail when you can.
- Print on recycled paper.
3. Choose reusable & paperless alternatives at home:
- Avoid paper towels. Use reusable cloth napkins instead.
- Switch to reusable silicone baking mats, instead of single-use baking paper.
- Buy 100% recycled toilet paper. To find many options, check my article with 19 plastic-free, tree-free & recycled toilet paper options!
- When you shop, use a reusable bag or a backpack rather than a paper one.
- Buy food in bulk, in your reusable containers.
- Try to avoid single-use paper products, such as paper plates, paper straws, and paper bags.
- Use the good old handkerchief instead of tissues.
- Use your computer for lists/notes/announcements instead of paper.
- Use all the notebooks you have first before buying new ones.
When you choose to recycle paper, you reintroduce it into the production stream, which eliminates the need to cut down more virgin trees to produce paper.
This doesn’t only save trees, but many other resources, while reducing harmful emissions.
Let me know below if you have ANY questions related to paper recycling, and feel free to read more about it here:
- 11 Types Of Paper That Cannot Be Recycled (And Why)
- 28 Paper, Plastic & Other Things That Cannot Be Recycled
Also, would you like to see how you can recycle paper at home? If so, I will be more than happy to make a DIY tutorial, so let me know! 🙂