Paper is one of the most commonly recycled materials in the United States. In fact, Americans recycle more than fifty million tons of paper each year. And every ton of recycled paper replaces seventeen trees’ worth of newspaper—while using only half the energy!
Let’s take a closer look at the journey paper takes from the recycling bin to the store shelf. When we know how this process works and why it’s so important, we can do more to help.
Step One: Collect
Wondering what you can do besides the obvious setting aside your paper for recycling? We can help by keeping our wastepaper free of food residue and making sure it goes to the correct bin. When the wastepaper reaches the recycling plant, it is sorted according to composition (to determine how it will be reused). All sorts of paper products can be recycled, including newspaper, receipts, old magazines, and more.
Step Two: Pulp
The paper is then dumped into a giant vat, called a pulper, where it is chopped up and “cooked” in a mixture of water and chemicals. Next, the resulting slurry passes through special screens that filter out small bits of glue and plastic.
Step Three: Clean
The pulpy mush spins around in chemical-filled cylinders for even more cleaning. Here, any additional contaminants are removed, like staples or paper clips.
Step Four: De-ink
Most recycled paper contains some form of print, so next, the pulp goes through an ingenious de-inking process: the pulp sits in a large vat called a flotation cell, and chemical bubbles rise through the fibers, forcing ink and dirt particles to the surface to be skimmed off.
Step Five: Bleach
When you think of paper, chances are you think about sheets of crisp, white paper. In order to achieve this effect, the pulp will often undergo a bleaching process. This doesn’t apply to all paper, though —paper used for industrial purposes gets to skip this step.
Step Six: Paper
In this final step, the pulp may be combined with new fiber for better quality. Then, it is mixed with more liquid, sent through a machine with heated rollers, and finally, flattened into sheets. The new paper is transported in enormous rolls that can weigh as much as several tons.
Paying attention to paper
When we pay attention to our paper usage—whether by buying recycled paper or by recycling the paper we use—we’re impacting the environment in a positive way. Now that you understand more about the paper recycling process, be sure to encourage your friends, family, and coworkers to participate.