How to Recycle Paper?
Paper recycling is the circular process of turning old waste paper into new paper, this recycling and producing process is called papermaking. Paper is a 100% natural and recyclable resource made of wood fibers. Therefore paper waste is the most important ingredient for the process of making new paper and cardboard products.
Did you know that paper can be recycled up to seven times, depending on the quality? That is because a paper fiber wears down every time it gets recycled.
Three main streams of paper waste
- Household waste paper – A mix of paper waste containing old newspapers, printer paper, magazines, junk mail, and paperboard packaging.
- Cardboard waste – Brown corrugated cardboard waste from parcel boxes or from cardboard packaging. Read more about cardboard recycling.
- Confidential waste paper – Printed documents with sensitive information on it, such as personal data. Most of these documents end up in a paper shredder. This shredded waste paper is an important resource for the tissue industry. Read more about paper shredding.
Paper recycling process
How does the process of paper recycling work and how do paper mills produce new paper from old paper? Let’s find out.
Step 1: Separating
It all starts at your home by sorting paper waste, such as old newspapers and paperboard boxes, from other recyclables and garbage. It is recommended to use a designated paper recycling bin for the collection of your paper waste. Keep paper that you recycle as clean as possible by collecting it in separate bins from all the other recyclable materials. This is the best way to ensure that the waste paper can be recycled properly.
Step 2: Collecting
The local waste hauler collects the old paper from centralized drop-off containers in your area or from curbside collection or pickup containers that are emptied on scheduled moments. The material is then transferred to a recycling center or a materials recovery facility (MRF).
Step 3: Sorting
At the recycling facility, the real recycling process starts by sorting and separating the mix of paper waste into multiple grades that contain different types of paper. Such as newspapers, cardboard boxes, printer paper, magazines, and mail. The facility roughly sorts the paper waste into two streams, namely pure paper waste and pure cardboard waste. During this process also contaminations are removed from the paper, such as plastic, wood or other foreign materials. This is partially done by machine but also by hand.
Step 4: Baling
The sorted paper waste is baled into paper bales for further transport. Not every recycling center bales the waste paper, some opt to deposit the material in large containers that can be transported to the paper mill.
Step 5: Pulping
At the paper mill, the actual papermaking process starts. Here the paper is put into a large machine where it is mixed with water and chemicals that converts the paper into paper pulp. The mixtures help to break the paper down. This process is called pulping and is meant for mixing all the paper together and for cleaning the material from impurities. During the process ink (de-inking), metals, glass, plastic, adhesives and other contaminants are removed from the paper pulp. This results in a homogeneous mix, that looks like a grey mixture by now, that forms the base of new paper.
In the process of pulping also virgin wood fibers are added to the mix to ensure the strength of the material, this means that waste paper is a secondary resource for papermaking.
Step 6: Drying
Now the clean pulp is ready to dry. This is done by pressing the material between large rollers to drain and extract the water out of the pulp. The drained pulp is now spread out and passed through heated metal rollers that dry the paper perfectly.
Step 7: Rolling
The dried and flattened layers of fresh paper are now treated by dryers to smooth out the paper from any wrinkles. Finally, the paper is rolled onto massive metal rollers where the material is then rated by quality controllers that check the strength and the grade of paper.
Step 8: Selling
The paper rolls can now be sold and shipped to other manufactures that use the freshly recycled paper for new products, like newspapers, magazines or postcards.
Recycled paper reduces the paper industry’s impact on the planet. It saves 100% of the trees, over 30% of the energy, over 50% of the water.
Questions about paper recycling (FAQ)
What are the different types of waste paper?
What are the common types and grades of waste paper that are sorted at the paper recycling facility?
- OCC 11 – Old corrugated containers made of cardboard.
- ONP – Old newspapers, newsprint, tissue, and lower grade paper.
- OINP – Over issued newspaper.
- NCC – New corrugated containers.
- DLK – Double liner kraft paper.
- High-grade deinked paper – Printer paper or (unsorted or sorted) office paper.
- Mixed Paper Waste (soft or hard) – Residential mixed paper such as mail, cartons, magazines, and shredded paper.
- Pulp substitutes – Residues from the paper pulping process.
- Graphic paper – Paper residues from the graphic paper industry, such as magazine shavings, cuttings, and trimmings.
What paper can you recycle?
The types of paper that can be recycled depends on local legislation and the acceptance conditions of the recycling company. Most important is that the material is clean and is free of contaminations, such as grease, paint or glue. Below is an overview of common paper products that can be recycled.
- Phone books
- Paperboard boxes
- White office paper*
*Make sure to remove confidential information, such as your address, before disposing it for recycling.
When disposing cardboard waste, please make sure you flatten the cardboard box so it takes up less space in the recycling container.
What paper is not recyclable?
Not every type of paper waste can be recycled at the recycling facility. Below is an overview of types of paper that are not recyclable.
- Coated and treated paper
- Paper containing food waste, such as used pizza boxes, paper plates, and paper cups
- Towels, napkins and tissue paper
- Laminated paper, wax paper and foil-coated paper
- Paper that is soiled or contaminated with oil, grease or chemicals
- Used wallpaper containing glue residues.
- Shredded paper waste*
*Shredded paper is often used as a resource material for the tissue industry, rather then it is used for papermaking.
Is paper biodegradable?
Paper that is made of 100% natural plant materials is biodegradable. Paper that is laminated is not 100% biodegradable.
Is new paper only made of old paper?
No, paper mills use both recycled paper and virgin fibers for papermaking. This results in strong paper that can be used for new paper products.
Why is paper recycling important?
Paper recycling yields many eco-friendly and environmental benefits:
- Paper recycling saves space in landfills.
- Reduces water and energy consumption. Compared to virgin paper, this results in 28% to 70% less energy consumption.
- It preserves resources and it saves forests by substituting used paper for trees.
- It generates less pollution during manufacturing.
- Reduces the carbon footprint and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
To extend the use of recovered paper as a raw material in papermaking it is very important that paper is source segregated and collected from households. This means that every citizen plays a key part in the success of the paper recycling and papermaking process and to achieve high recovery percentages of paper.
Around 40% of all fibers used in our tissue products globally come from recycled paper.
Is recycled paper eco friendly?
Yes, recycled paper is more sustainable than paper made of virgin material only. It requires less energy compared to making virgin paper, it conserves wood and it reduces water pollution. Recycled paper also helps saving trees, because it lowers the demand for wood. This reduces deforestation and it reduces the carbon footprint.
The whole process of paper recycling uses less total energy in comparison with papermaking from virgin wood fibers.
Is recycled paper a lower quality paper?
No, recycled paper can be used for making high-quality paper that you can use for your printer. But recycled paper can also be made into a lower-grade type of paper that is used for newspaper or mail.
Is paper recycling secure?
The process of paper recycling is secure enough for non-confidential documents. But it isn’t advised to discard sensitive documents in your paper recycling bin. For secure disposing of confidential documents, it is recommended to use a secure paper shredder to destroy sensitive data, such as personal information or business-related information.
Some paper shredders, such as cross-cut shredders and micro-cut shredders, destroy the paper in very small particles. This helps to destroy the confidential information, but it also shortens the paper fibers. The downside of this is that the shredded paper can’t be recycled at the recycling facility. Therefore only shred documents that really need to be shredded.
Please carefully read the acceptance policies for recyclables in your area whether or not you can discard shredded paper in the paper recycling bin.
What to do with shredded paper?
Shredded paper forms an important resource for the tissue industry. But how does the tissue industry get their hand on the shredded paper?
Paper shredding companies facilitate the service of secure paper shredding for businesses and for consumers. These shredding companies shred confidential documents in bulk in large industrial shredder machines, you can drop-off your documents or the documents can be collected at your office
The shredded material is compressed into bales which are then sold and transported to the tissue making companies. The tissue industry produces toilet paper, paper towels and other paper hygiene products.
Paper and composting
When shredder paper can’t be recycled, you can always opt for composting it in a composting bin. Shredded paper is a perfect bedding for vermi-composting for instance.
Facts about paper recycling
- In Europe, the recycling percentage of waste paper and cardboard was 72% in 2016 – Source.
- At a European level, about 50% of recovered paper is collected from industry and trade, 40% from households and 10% from offices (CEPI, 2006)
- In the United States, the recycling percentage of waste paper and cardboard was 66% in 2017 – Source.
- In the 90s approximately 35% of the paper and cardboard waste was recycled in the USA – Source.
- Recycling of 1,000 kilograms paper waste, reduces the need of 3.3 trees for making new paper – Source.
- With 1,000 kilograms recycled paper you reduce the need of 4,000 kilowatts of energy – Source.
- Recycling paper costs 60% less energy in comparison to producing paper from virgin material – Source.
- Paper fiber can be recycled and reused up to 7 times – Source.
- Did you know that recovered paper can be also used for insulation in construction? These are more environmentally friendly than conventional fiberglass insulation – Source.
Recycling meant victory
During the First and Second World War, there was a major shortage of paper pulp. People were asked to save used paper and rags to make new paper and to help the war effort.
Paper recycling signs and logos
To help sorting and collecting waste papers, it is recommended to use clear labels on the recycling bins to prevent contamination. You can find and order official paper recycling labels at the website of Recycle Across America.
Paper Recycling Industry Associations
- European Recovered Paper Association (ERPA)
- European Paper Recycling Council (EPRC)
- Conference of European Paper Industries (CEPI)
- Wikipedia – Paper recycling
- USI.edu – Paper recycling facts
- Paperrecycles.org – FAQ about paper recycling
- Paperrecycles.org – Turning old paper into new paper
- Earth911.com – How to recycle paper
- Earth911.com – Paper recycling details
- Sciencedirect.com – Recycled paper
- Epa.gov – Paper recycling
- Thebalancemb.com – Paper recycling facts and figures
Step Up: Recycle, Reuse & Reduce
The three arrows of the recycling symbol represent the three main stages of the recycling process: recycling, reusing and reducing. Together the arrows form a closed loop. Step up and implement eco-friendly replacements in your daily life.
By Recycling.com/ 6 April 2020