How is Paper Recycled?

How is Paper Recycled?

For most of my life, every other Wednesday night my mom would tell me, “Nicholas, don’t forget to bring the paper and cardboard out to the curb.” I’d complain and begrudgingly mope over to the garage where I would take a look at what I’d be working with this time around. Number one thing I would see, newspapers, all neatly stored within paper bags from Shop Rite or Stop ‘N Shop. Lots and lots of heavy newspaper filled paper bags.

Stacks of newspapers

According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), about 73 percent of newspapers are recycled each year.  To successfully recycle it’s important that your paper is clean, meaning no contaminants such as, food, metal and of course plastic.

Yup, no plastic! Which means those heavy bags filled with newspapers were not sitting snugly in a plastic bag with handles. I can still remember attempting to pick up seven bags of newspaper at once without handles, because lets be real, it’s easier to make one trip with more than you can physically carry, rather than just making multiple trips. Bags would fall, tear, rip and ultimately I’d end up with a large portion of the NY Times and Bergen Record scattered across the driveway. This is so stupid! I’d rather be inside playing video games.

squirrel in can - "recycle"Believe it or not, recycling isn’t stupid and it doesn’t require that much effort to make a difference (well maybe it does if your a stubborn teenager). Of course, recycling has quite a few environmental benefits that make carrying that paper to the curb worth it. Recycling conserves natural resources, saves energy, limits pollution  and even helps to support local economy.

But unfortunately, as a young child I could care less about recycling, and you may feel that same way now regardless of age. Chances are though, if you’ve read this far you are at least a little curious about it.

So how is paper recycled?

Now that you’ve finally lugged all that paper and cardboard out to the curb what happens?

First your paper is picked up and taken to a paper mill, where it is separated and stored. Depending on paper grade, different types of paper are kept separately. There they wait until their time comes.

Alien from Toy Story

Once chosen, they are placed on a conveyor belt and put through the re-pulping and screening process. Re-pulping entails breaking down the paper into small pieces, mixing with water and chemicals, and then heating. It is then screened, during the screening process all contaminants such as plastic or glue are removed.

From there, the newly created pulp mixture is cleaned and de-inked through a water mix and a process called flotation. During flotation, air and soap-like chemicals are fed into the pulp and cause the ink to extract from the pulp and rise to the surface where it creates a foam. The inky foam is then removed off the top.

Once the ink is out, the pulp is beaten to make the recycled fibers swell, this makes them ideal for paper-making. If the recycled pulp is intended to be made into white paper, it is then bleached with hydrogen peroxide, chlorine dioxide, or oxygen to brighten and whiten. For brown recycled paper that step is skipped.

recycling diagram

Finally the pulp mixture is blended with water and continuously sprayed onto a huge flat wired screen. The water drains from the pulp and the recycled fibers bond together to form a water sheet. That sheet is brought through a series of rollers which squeeze out more water while simultaneously being heated, which dries out the paper. The finished paper is wound into a giant roll and removed from the machine, a single roll can be as wide as 30 feet and weight as much as 20 tons! Eventually that roll is cut into smaller rolls or sheets before being shipped back out.

Waste-Paper-Recycling-Machine

At JAM Paper we have hundreds of different recycled products which have, at one point or another, all been through this very process. From envelopes to colored paper, folders and more. When you look at all that goes into the paper recycling process, that 1 minute trip to the curb and back seems a lot less daunting.

Recycle Process facts learned from Tappi.org

Author: Nick Hodgins

We can't overestimate the value of computers. Yes, they are great for playing games and forwarding funny emails. But real business is done on paper. - Michael Scott

1 Reply to “How is Paper Recycled?”

  1. Nice summary,

    Just two comments,
    I believe that the term “soaking wet sheet of felted fibers” better describes the state than “water sheet”.
    And, since pressing and drying are two entirely different processes I recommend adding another sentence to be able to describe them both, rather than lumping them together in one sentence.

    Kind regards /Ake

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