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How to recycle paper?
In this article, we will observe the most common questions when it comes to paper recycling.
Even though recycling is the last option of living an *almost* zero waste, that doesn’t mean we should disregard it.
Without further delays, let’s begin! We are going to go through the following questions:
- Can paper be recycled?
- What kind of paper is recyclable? And which paper products cannot be recycled?
- How does paper get recycled? What is the recycling process of paper?
- Why should we recycle paper?
- How to reduce, reuse and recycle different paper products?
- Simple ways & ideas to reduce your paper consumption
- Final paper recycling tips/notes
This article is a Part 1 of my “How To Recycle Different Things”. In each blog post, we will focus on different materials. This part is about PAPER.
1. Can paper be recycled?
YES but not all paper.
It is essential to recycle only paper that doesn’t include other materials (such as plastic) or paper that is without traces of food, for example.
The recycling process involves mixing the paper with water, which turns into a slurry of pulp. If the paper is contaminated with oil or food, it will ruin the whole mixture, and it must be thrown away in a landfill.
Furthermore, PAPER cannot be recycled infinitely. The ability to be reused lowers down with each time. That is because the paper is made of long fibers – and every time is recycled – those fibers get shorter. This makes the recycling process harder and harder.
Depending on the material, paper can be recycled between 5-7 times. After that, the fibers will be too small, and it can be made into something like a “paper paste,” which can be used for things like egg cartons.
2. What types of paper can be recycled?
You can recycle different types of paper, including:
White paper: computer paper, letters
Cardboard / Paperboard
Envelopes (without the plastic ‘window’)
Soft-covered books with white pages
Telephone directories, Booklets
The most important thing is that the paper is clean, dry, and separated from any other materials (such as plastic).
PAPER that you CANNOT recycle:
Paper that is dirty, used or stained: pizza boxes, paper towels, paper plates, take-out boxes, baking paper, kids paintings, wet wipes
Hygiene/sanitary products: used tissues, napkins, wipes, sanitary towels
Paper coffee cups (usually lined with plastic)
Shredded paper: BUT you can compost it
Foil-based gift wrapping
Wallpaper and decoration paper
Wax, plastic or foil-coated paper
3. How does paper get recycled?
This is how paper is usually recycled:
Step 1 – The paper is collected from recycling bins and then dropped to a recycling facility.
Step 2 – Afterward, the paper is separated into types 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, other similar products.
High-grade deinked paper – envelopes, copy paper, and letterheads
Pulp substitutes – discarded scraps from mills
Step 3 – The paper is placed into a large holder, where it is mixed with water to create ‘slurry.’
Step 4 – By adding various substances to the slurry, people create different paper products, such as cardboard, newsprints, office paper, etc.
Step 5 – The slurry is stretched with big rollers into large thin sheets. Then, the paper is left to dry, and it is rolled up, ready to be cut and sent back to the shops.
In fact, you can recycle paper at home, too! It doesn’t require much, and in the end, you will create your paper. Soon, I’ll make a short tutorial in case you want to DIY recycled paper.
4. Why should we recycle paper?
Did you know that when paper rots, it emits methane gas which is 25 times more toxic than CO2? What’s worse, paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste.
That’s why it is crucial to recycle paper properly.
Moreover, you need a lot of energy to create paper. Interestingly, to produce paper takes twice the energy used to provide a plastic bag.
Let’s not forget the main aim, which is:
First, REDUCE your paper consumption. Second, REUSE and continue using the paper products you have. Lastly, you can compost and recycle it.
Why reducing and reusing is more critical than recycling? –>
While deforestation is one of the most important environmental problems we’re facing nowadays, 93% of paper comes from trees.
While lowering the consumption of paper doesn’t seem that hard, the demand for paper is growing, and it is expected to double before 2030.
it is essential to recycle paper properly because each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save:
This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution!
So, when you choose to recycle paper, you reintroduce it into the production stream. Furthermore, that eliminates the need to cut down more virgin trees to produce paper.
5. How to reduce, reuse, and recycle different paper products?
Paperboard (such as breakfast cereal boxes):
- Paperboard items have one layer. They can be both recycled and composted.
- It is usually used to make tissue boxes or soapboxes
- Cardboard items often have three layers – two flat pieces sandwiched around a middle wavy layer.
- Try to find a local business that will take used cardboard boxes. In that way, they will be first reused and then recycled.
- Interestingly, even though paperboard and cardboard are similar, they are recycled and processed differently because they differ in quality.
- Brown paper grocery bags are recyclable with other paper products.
- If the handles are made of another material, such as plastic, you should remove them, before recycling your bag.
- Sometimes, the bags contain glue, that is used to attach handles or other components. Often, the glue is water-soluble. Any paper factory that can process mixed paper should be able to remove adhesives during the recycling process.
- Before recycling the paper bag, make sure to reuse it, in the grocery store, for example.
- This paper can be recycled into new printer paper or down-cycled into toilet paper.
- This includes anything that comes in the mail (“junk” mail, flyers, catalogs, and coupon) and office items like file folders. These paper products can all be recycled in the same process.
- Usually, then can be recycled, since paper factories that process mixed paper can remove adhesives.
- Check your local recycling program, and see if they accept mixed paper.
- Greeting cards are classified as mixed paper unless they contain metal/paper components or electronics.
- Luckily, you CAN recycle glossy paper, such as magazines or catalogs. However, before recycling it, consider donating or giving away your magazines to libraries, waiting rooms, family shelters, nursing homes, etc.
- Paper tubes are made of chipboard. Containers used to store frozen foods are lined with plastic and have a limited recycling market.
Gift bags and shopping bags:
- Gift bags are often not recyclable because they are usually made from a combination of paper and plastic.
- Receipts are coated with BPA and are not recyclable or compostable.
- What can you do about that? Just refuse them. Whenever you get the opportunity, say that you don’t need a receipt.
Related post: Can You Recycle Receipts?
- If it has food waste or oil on it, then it cannot be recycled. You can place it in your compost pile, but before you throw it there, you can reuse it. Simply bake with it a few more times, if it’s not too damaged.
- You can switch to better alternatives. Instead of using parchment paper for cooking, you can get reusable silicone baking mat sheets!
- Frequently, the bottom of a pizza box is greasy, so it can’t be recycled. In case the upper part is without any traces of oil, you can separate it – recycle the top part of the box, and compost the bottom piece.
Related post: Should you recycle or compost pizza boxes?
- There is no recycling market for damp or dirty paper. If only parts of the paper are stained, such as a pizza box, you can remove the wet/dirty portion and recycle the rest.
- It depends on where you live, but in some places, shredded paper can be recycled. There might be some restrictions regarding the size of the shredded pieces and the way the paper is contained. Check with your local recycling program for more information.
- If you can’t recycle it – the shredded paper is ideal for composting, particularly “vermicomposting.” This method includes worms that help to break down your organic waste. Composting shredded paper is an excellent, environmentally preferred disposal method.
- They are lined with a thin coating of plastic that makes the cup waterproof so it can hold liquid. Unfortunately, it is hard to separate the plastic from the paper, which makes the recycling process of paper cups almost non existing
- If your paper cups are lined with polylactic acid (PLA) instead of polyethylene, they can be commercially composted in about 60 days
- The best thing you can do is to get a reusable cup that you can take with you. Or you can choose to sit in a coffee shop, rather than getting a coffee “to go” in a paper cup.
- Many paper straws on the market are usually not recyclable. That’s because most recyclers will not accept food contaminated paper products.
- Paper straws require growing & cutting trees, then pulping and pressing it into a tube. Next, manufacturers use fossil fuels to ship the straws to stores and cafés. Even though a lot of people consider paper straws better than plastic straws, the truth is that they are not the most environmentally-friendly item. It is best if you get a reusable metal/glass straw, or avoid using one at all cost.
- These carton boxes contain mixed materials, and they often have plastic linings. For example, Tetra Pak contains 75% paperboard, 20% polyethylene (plastic) and 5% aluminum. Even though they are recyclable, the fact that they include different materials makes them very hard to recycle.
6. Simple ways & ideas to reduce your paper consumption
REFUSE things that you don’t need, such as:
- Junk mail – Put a sign saying that you only 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
- Check if you can use a digital version of something, before printing. Print only the pages that you need.
- Print on both sides of the paper.
- Use email rather than paper mail when you can.
- Avoid paper towels. Use reusable cloth napkins.
- Buy 100% recycled toilet paper
- 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, paper bags
- Use the good old handkerchief instead of tissues
- Use your computer for lists/notes/announcements instead of paper
- Stop buying cute notebooks, just because they look pretty and use the one you already have (even though it can be hard, I know that!)
7. Final paper recycling tips & notes
Paper is a valuable recyclable material, but only when it is clean.
To avoid contaminating your local recycling stream, throw your food-soiled newspaper (or other type of paper) in your compost pile, or remove all stained portions before recycling.
Remove any plastic wrapping from newspapers, magazines, envelopes, etc.
Recycling of certain types of paper, such as paper lined with plastic (like frozen food boxes, milk, and juice cartons) are limited in some areas. It is recommended to check your waste management factory and to ask if they take that type of material.
Break down big cardboard boxes to save storage space.
The ink used on a piece of paper won’t affect the recycling process, even though there are some exceptions. When a paper is recycled, it goes through a process called deinking. This step cleans the fibers of ink so they can be made into new paper.
There you have it – everything you need to know on paper recycling.
Let me know in the comments below if something is unclear, or if you have any questions.
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! 🙂