Paper Recycling and the Paper Industry

Paper recycling is a process used to turn waste paper or scrap paper into a usable product. In order to accomplish this, the fibers are separated and formed into new sheets of paper. Or, the paper can be burned in order to create energy.

Filling Landfills and Recycling Paper

Sadly, paper products are the largest waste product found in municipal solid waste, with paper products making up approximately 31-38% of the products within United States Landfills. At the same time, paper is the most recycled product in the United States. In fact, approximately 45 million tons of paper and paperboard was recycled in 2001 in the United States alone. Yet, this only accounts for about 45% of all of the paper and paper products being used in the country.

43% is a decent number, but the amount of paper being recycled has remained fairly stagnant. In addition, about 74% of this recycled paper was due to paper package recovery initiated by the package industry. Furthermore, the demand for recycled paper products is not pressing in the United States, particularly since these products can be more costly than those that are not made from recycled paper.

The Paper Recycling Process

Most reclaimed paper goes through a similar process. First, the material is separated into component fibers and added to water, which creates a pulp slurry. This process is called resuspension. The slurry then goes through a cleaning process in order to remove any nonfibrous contaminants. A deinking process, which is accomplished with sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide, is also sometimes necessary. Then, the pulp is bleached in order to create white paper. Finally, the fiber is pressed into sheets of paper. Sometimes, the recycled paper pulp is first mixed with virgin fibers in order to create a stronger product. Other times, it is used to make 100% recycled products.

Environmental Impact of Recycling Paper

Recycling paper has a large impact on the environment. First, recycling paper utilizes less water and energy than creating paper from virgin trees. In addition, recycling causes less water and air pollution. On the other hand, more bleach is needed to recycle paper. This can be problematic if chlorine is used to do the bleaching. Fortunately, there are alternatives to using chlorine during the bleaching process.

Making Recycling Easy

Fortunately, paper recycling has become increasingly easy to do. Most cities include a recycling program with their garbage pick up for no additional cost. Therefore, residents simply put their recyclable products out on the curb for pick up just as they do with their garbage. For those living outside of the city limits, private garbage pick up companies usually also offer a recycling program, though it may be for an extra cost. In addition, most cities have recycling centers where paper products can be dropped off for recycling at no extra cost. Furthermore, some employers and colleges offer special recycling programs that will even allow their employees and students to drop off their recyclable products.

With so many options available for ensuring paper gets recycled, there is no reason not to help preserve the environment by recycling paper products.