One of the biggest movements in recent years when it comes to general waste management is how we all handle all the paper we use and discard. Just ten or fifteen years ago, products made from recycled paper were few and far between. Nowadays, almost every ream of paper, Christmas card, notebook or diary is made from paper that has been collected, pulped and made into a new paper.
It’s a testament to how we can all change our behaviour and make a difference when it comes to saving the environment. Recycling makes sense to manufacturing paper from virgin sources – 70% less energy is used and 40% less water. That doesn’t mean all paper can be recycled. There is a limit to how many times a sheet of paper can be pulped and reused.
Collecting Waste Paper
One of the key problems with recycling paper is how to keep it free from contaminants. In the UK, and across most of Europe, paper is collected separately from other waste products. Another problem is the different grades of paper that all have to be processed in a particular way – for instance, newsprint and newspaper has to be handled by a different process compared to glossy or coated paper.
In the UK, we now have separate recycling bins for papers and plastics which are collected from domestic properties on a regular basis, returned to central recycling facilities and then shipped out to pulping and paper handling companies across the country. It’s become big business in the UK.
The Recycling Process
Paper recycling takes place at specialist paper mills and the first step of this process is the collecting and sorting of the particular types of waste. There are different grades of paper and the majority that is processed comes from commercial outlets and industrial processes rather than from the domestic sector. You might be surprised to learn that there are over 60 different types of paper. These are generally split into five main groups.
- Ordinary: An important part of the recycling process and whether a particular type of paper is suitable is the quality of the fibres. The more paper is recycled the more it degrades and has to have virgin wood pulp added to it to improve the quality. Ordinary grade contains short fibres and is the most common form of domestic paper and includes subcategories such as newspapers and magazines, corrugated paper and board.
- Medium Grade: This includes white print shavings, office paper, white books and coloured magazines as well as things such as computer printout paper.
- High Grade: These are normally papers that have come from close to the virgin source and the grade has subcategories that include binders, white business forms and unbleached board. When reprocessed these require less virgin material to recycle them into new paper products.
- Kraft Grade: A lot of our recycling is from packaging which generally has long fibres and these are suitable for reconstituting back into similar packaging.
- Special Grade: Often uneconomical to sort, these are different kinds of paper and card that include wet-strength paper and mixed recover paper.
When paper is recycled it often requires additional virgin pulp to improve the quality. The reason for this is that every time it is recycled, the general strength of the fibres degenerates. Paper can normally be pulped and reused about 6 times before it becomes unsuitable for recycling.
How Paper is Recycled
There are a variety of processes that are used for the recycling of paper but all revolve around an initial sorting and pulping. Once it has been collected, it is taken to a central facility where it is sorted into different grades. The paper is then washed with a soapy solution of water to remove things like coatings and ink as well as other additives such as staples and glue. The next stage is to put this treated paper in a container with water to form a slurry.
The slurry is used to create new paper and other products such as card. This is done by adding virgin materials to the recycled content to make cardboard, office paper and newspaper. The new product is then rolled out and dried before being cut and sent back into the manufacturing cycle.
The management of general waste depends largely on the amount that we can recycle and paper is a big part of this. Of course, much of our management of paper depends on how we use the waste hierarchy and before we recycle many homes and businesses have a duty to reuse paper as much as possible and ensure that they don’t create large amounts of waste in the first place. This can include reusing packaging, deciding not to print out onto paper and finding other ways to reduce the amount we waste.
For business and industry, there is a specific legal mandate to handle waste disposal. You can search for a paper waste disposal service in your area on our comprehensive contractor database.