What do you need to know about recycling paper?
Recycling paper is one of the environmentally friendly methods of waste disposal supported by the solid waste management industry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the amount of paper that we generate crested in 2000 and has gone down slightly since then. Paper industry data, which covers all paper consumed in a year and is almost 15 million tons higher than EPA's, also shows a relatively flat supply trend. Both sets of statistics show that per capita paper consumption is declining over time.
What is happening is that we keep finding ways to avoid using paper. E-mail increasingly is replacing paper mail. More and more people are reading newspapers, magazines and books online. All sorts of businesses seek “paperless” ways of doing their business. Plastic bags have pretty much replaced paper bags. More milk is sold in plastic jugs than in paper containers.
Even with these reductions or substitutions, Americans continue to use a lot of paper every day, in our homes, schools and businesses. As a result, paper
including writing paper, corrugated boxes, tissue and toilet paper, newspaper and packaging
remains the largest part of the American waste stream. According to EPA, paper makes up slightly less than a third of our trash. That's more than 71 million tons.
The good news is that more and more Americans are recycling paper every year. Americans recycled more than 62 percent of the paper we used in 2010. But we can achieve even more. Eighty percent of America’s paper mills are designed to use paper collected in recycling programs, and they depend on paper recycling to have the materials they need to operate.
Recycling Paper: Did you know?
- Every ton of mixed paper recycled can save the energy equivalent of 165
- Recycling paper saves energy and reduces pollution. Making new paper from recycled paper uses up to 55 percent less energy than making paper from trees, and reduces related air pollution by 95 percent.
How is paper recycled?
Recycled paper processing mills use paper as their feedstock. The recovered paper is combined with water in a large vessel called a pulper, which acts like a blender to separate fibers in the paper sheets from each other. The resultant paper material then passes through screens and other separation processes to remove contaminants such as ink, clays, dirt, plastic and metals.
Paper fibers from newspaper are recycled back into newspaper, as well as paper game boards, paper egg cartons, paper gift boxes, paper animal bedding, paper insulation and paper packaging material. Paper fibers from office paper are recycled into tissue paper, paper towels and toilet paper. Paper fibers from corrugated cardboard are recycled into corrugated medium, which is a component of a paper box.
Tips for reducing, reusing and recycling paper
Most paper products can be reused or recycled, including newspaper and books, magazines and catalogs, office paper, and certain types of cardboard. Following are some paper recycling tips to get you started.
- Recycle books by donating them to local libraries, schools, charitable organizations and hospitals. Trade books with friends, or take advantage of web sites like www.PaperBackSwap.com, www.BookMooch.com or www.Freecycle.com to trade your books online. You can also sell your books on eBay or Craigslist, or to a local used bookstore.
- Take brown paper bags back to the store to recycle them, or check with your municipal curbside recycling program to see if they are accepted at recycling centers. (They usually are.) Reduce your overall use of paper bags by taking cloth tote bags along on your grocery shopping trips.
- Curbside municipal recycling programs readily accept newspaper. Be sure to remove any rubber bands or plastic bags before you place your paper in the paper recycling bin. Generally, old newsprint should be kept dry and clean.
- Cardboard is one of the most commonly recycled paper materials. Boxes meant for paper recycling should be emptied and flattened. Wet or greasy cardboard (such as pizza boxes) paper cannot be recycled. Cardboard also works great in composting. Use it to line the compost heap or layer it with wet grass cuttings.
- All municipal paper recycling programs that accept paper will accept magazines and catalogs, so make sure you are including these paper materials in your sorted recyclables. You can also donate magazines to hospitals or nursing homes. To reduce your catalog waste, register with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference List. And make sure to cancel any subscriptions for magazines you don’t read.
Newspaper Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:
Generated Newspaper: 9.88 million tons or 4.0 percent by weight or 63.94 pounds per person per year.
Recycled Paper: 7.37 million tons, a 72.0 percent recovery rate in 2010 according to industry data.
Recycled Content Paper: 30 percent for American newspapers. (27 states have voluntary or mandatory recycled fiber requirements.)
Incinerated Paper or Landfilled Paper: 2.81 million tons, or 1.7 percent of discarded MSW by weight. (Per-pound Btu value of 7,500 is 50 percent higher than a pound of garbage.)
Landfill Paper Volume: 15.3 million cubic yards or 3.6 percent of landfilled MSW by volume in 1997.
Source Reduction: Newspapers use a lighter paper weight and smaller paper size. “Web width” has
decreased from 48 inches to as low as 42 inches.
(Sources: Waste Age, Carnegie Mellon, Earth 911, The American Forest and Paper Association, EPA)
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