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Paper recycling

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Paper is the number one material in the solid waste stream. For every 100 pounds of trash we throw away, 35 pounds is paper. Newspapers take up about 14 percent of landfill space, and paper in packaging accounts for another 15 to 20 percent.

A ton of paper made from recycled fibers instead of virgin fibers conserves:

  • 7,000 gallons of water
  • 17-31 trees
  • 4,000 KWh of electricity
  • 60 pounds of air pollutants

How paper is madeEdit

In 2003, the paper industry in the U.S. reached its goal to recover 50 percent of all paper.

By achieving this goal, 20 million more tons of paper was recovered. The industry has set a new goal of recovering 55 percent of used paper by 2012.

Today, more than a third of all the paper that is recovered in the world is recovered in the U.S.

Old corrugated containers (boxes) account for nearly 50 percent of the total paper that is recycled.

Papermaking uses a natural, renewable resource—trees. The first step in papermaking is harvesting the trees. Paper companies plant trees specifically for papermaking, much like an apple farmer grows apple trees to produce apples. If one tree is cut down, another is planted to replace it.

After the trees are harvested, they are delivered to a paper mill. Paper mills use every part of the tree so nothing is wasted. The bark and roots are burned and used for energy to run the paper mill. The rest of the tree is chopped into small chips for pulping. Pulping is a chemical process that separates the wood fibers from lignin and other wood parts.

Pulp is the soft, spongy part of a tree. Lignin is the glue that holds a tree together. If lignin is left in a paper product, the paper turns yellow and brittle when it’s exposed to light. You have probably noticed that newspapers turn yellow very quickly. Lignin is usually left in newsprint, since newspapers are only meant to last a day or so.

After pulping, paper is the color of grocery bags. High quality papers are whitened with chlorine bleach and sometimes coated with clays and adhesives to give them a glossy finish. Paper mills need a lot of energy to produce paper. About 50 percent of their energy comes from wood scraps that cannot be used to make paper. The rest of the energy is purchased from local power companies or generated on site by the mill using other energy sources.

Recycled PaperEdit

Recycled paper is made from waste paper, usually mixed with fresh wood pulp. If the paper contains ink, the paper must be deinked. Deinking also removes fillers, clays, and fiber fragments.

Almost all paper can be recycled today, but some types are harer to recycle than others. Papers that are waxed, pasted, or gummed—or papers that are coated with plastic or aluminum foil—are usually not recycled because the process is too expensive. Even papers that are recycled are not usually recycled together. Waste papers should be sorted. You shouldn’t mix newspapers and cardboard boxes together for recycling.

Different grades of paper are recycled into different types of new products. Old newspapers are usually made into new newsprint, egg cartons, or paperboard. Old corrugated boxes are made into new corrugated boxes or paperboard. High-grade white office paper can be made into almost any new paper product—stationery, newsprint, or paper for magazines and books.

Sometimes recyclers ask you to remove the glossy inserts that come with newspapers. The newsprint and glossy inserts are different types of paper.

Glossy inserts have a heavy clay coating that some paper mills cannot accept. Besides, a paper mill gets more recyclable fibers from a ton of pure newsprint than it does from a ton of mixed newsprint that is weighed down with heavy clay-coated papers.

Unlike most other recyclables, paper cannot be recycled over and over again. Eventually the fibers become too weak and short to be used again. That is why virgin paper fiber is usually mixed with recycled paper when new paper products are made. Most cardboard boxes are a mixture of 50 percent new and 50 percent recycled fibers.

Does Paper recycling save energyEdit

Yes it does, although the energy savings are not as spectacular as they are with aluminum and steel recycling.

A paper mill uses 40 percent less energy to make paper from recycled paper than it does to make paper from fresh lumber. However, a recycling mill may consume more fossil fuels than a paper mill. Paper mills generate much of their energy from waste wood, but recycling mills purchase most of their energy from local power companies or use on-site cogeneration facilities.

Making recycled paper does require fewer chemicals and bleaches than making all-new paper. Although recycled paper is less polluting than paper made from wood fiber, both processes produce different by-products. Paper mills may emit more sulfur dioxide, but recycling mills may produce more sludge. Deinking at Cross Pointe’s Miami, Ohio mill results in 22 pounds of sludge for every 100 pounds of wastepaper recycled.

Paper recycling does mean fewer trees are used to make paper, but all-new paper is almost always made from trees specifically grown for papermaking. A tree harvested for papermaking is soon replaced by another, so the cycle continues. “We are not talking about the rain forest or old growth in the Pacific Northwest,” says Champion Paper’s Martin Blick. “Most of the trees cut for paper come from fifth or sixth generation pulp-wood forests.”


Demand for Recycled PaperEdit

Between 1990 and 1993, there was a glut of old newspapers on the East Coast. People in some communities diligently collected newspapers for recycling, only to have stacks of them grow and grow until they had to pay someone to haul them away—sometimes to a landfill.

In these situations, it may be better to burn the paper in a waste-to-energy plant than to recycle. The heat energy produced from burning the paper can be used to make steam and electricity.

During the last few years, the demand for recycled paper has caught up to the supply. More than 85 new paper mills with recycling capabilities have been built in the United States. Today, many paper companies are eager to get their hands on as much used paper as possible.

Most news print producers were using at least some recycled newsprint by 1995. Now they are worried that there may not be enough old newspapers to meet their demand.

America’s forest and paper companies have met their goal to recover 50 percent of all the paper used. They have set a new goal of 55 percent recovery by 2012.

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