heap of many newspapers already read for the collection of used paper

What Happens to Paper After it is Put into the Recycle Bin?

When you put your paper into the recycle bin, you become part of process that saves hundreds of thousands of trees each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

After you put paper in your recycle bin, it’s taken to a recycling center where contaminants such as plastic, glass or trash are removed. Then, the paper is sorted into different grades and stored in bales until it is transferred to a mill for processing. There it is shredded and mixed with a hot water slurry to turn it into pulp. Pulpers shred the paper into small pieces. This mixture of paper, water, and chemicals is heated and the pieces of paper break down into fibers. The mixture is pressed through a screen to remove adhesives and other remaining contaminants, then spun in a cone-shaped cylinder to clean it, and remove ink. The pulp is sprayed onto a conveyor belt where water will drip through the belt’s screen, and the paper fibers will start bonding together. Heated metal rollers will dry the paper, and the paper will be wound onto large reels, ready to be made into new paper products.

Using a variety of different processes, your junk mail and newspapers might be recycled into books, magazines, office paper, egg cartons, paper plates, or construction paper. Toilet paper, facial tissue, paper towels and napkins are often made from recycled notebook and computer paper. Magazines usually get a second life as newspapers or paperboard packaging. Recycled paperboard is processed into more paperboard, paper towel rolls, or paper backing for roof shingles. Cardboard boxes are recycled into paper bags, packaging products and new cardboard boxes. Some paper is turned into other products, such as padded mailer envelopes, kitty litter, and loft insulation.

Purchasing products made with recycled content, especially those that can be recycled again such as printer and copier paper, create a bigger impact in your recycling efforts. According to the San Mateo County RecycleWorks, “Each 20 cases of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 390 gallons of oil, 7,000 gallons of water, and 4,100 kwh of energy. It also eliminates 60 pounds of air-polluting emissions and saves 8 cubic feet of landfill space.”

Paper products made from recycled paper may be made from 100 percent recycled paper or, more often, from a mixture of new and recycled paper. Look for the highest percentage of post-consumer content in the paper. Post-consumer indicates the amount of waste paper collected from consumers and reprocessed. Higher percentages are better. Pre-consumer waste that may be used in recycled paper includes paper trimmings from paper mills and printers, and printed materials that never reach the consumer.

These symbols identify a product as recyclable or made from recycled paper:

This symbol indicates recycled This symbol indicates made from recycled materials
Recycled Made from recycled materials

Buying toilet paper and tissues made from recycled paper is one of the most eco-friendly purchasing decisions you can make. These recycled paper products save trees, significantly reduce energy consumption over products made with virgin paper, and use less water. For example, PSSI/Stanford says one ton of recycled newsprint saves:

  • 601 Kwh of energy, 1.7 barrels of oil (71 gallons)
  • 10.2 million BTUs of energy
  • 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released
  • 7,000 gallons of water
  • 4.6 cubic yards of landfill space.

One ton of recycled office paper saves:

  • 4,100 Kwh of energy
  • 9 barrels of oil
  • 54 million BTUs of energy
  • 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released
  • 7,000 gallons of water
  • 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.

And, using a product like Control-n-Roll helps eliminate personal wasted paper and money.

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