Recycling may be a part of your everyday life, but did you know the truth about recycled paper? From how it's made to how many times paper can be recycled, learn the facts to understand your role in the process.
The History of Paper Recycling
Believe it or not, paper recycling has been going on the in United States since 1690. Paper hasn't always been made from trees. In fact, the first papers were actually made from rags and linen. Recycling centers were set up to turn old books into new ones in an effort to produce more paper to satisfy the public's demand for new books.
Paper didn't begin to come from trees until the mid 19th century. Just 50 years later, the first major recycling center opened to recycle rags, newspapers and trash. The focus at the time was not to reduce the amount of trees felled to produce paper, but to reduce the amount of trash being built up in urban areas such as New York City.
Recycling of paper and paper products to reduce the amount of trees felled each year didn't begin to catch on until the late 20th century. 1993 became the first year when more paper was recycled than thrown away, making the turning point in the paper industry.
Seven Generations of Paper
One truth about recycled paper that many consumers may not be aware of is the number of times that paper can be recycled. Each time paper is reduced to pulp and reformatted into a new product, the fibers that make up its content grow shorter.
What this means is that eventually, if no virgin or never before recycled paper materials are not introduced into the pulp, the paper will no longer hold together. Paper can be recycled up to seven times before this begins to happen. This is why many companies will actually produce a mixture of recycled and virgin content, to prolong the process.
The Ugly Truth About Recycled Paper
While it's true that recycling paper products has tremendous impact on the environment, this impact is actually double sided. While recycling paper reduces the amount of virgin paper and therefore trees used each year, the recycling process also offloads a great deal of wasted ink or sludge into the environment. Some recycling plants, in the process of removing ink from newspapers and books to recycle the paper will end up dumping up to 22 percent of the weight of the recycled paper in sludge into the environment.
Additionally, recycled paper needs to be bleached the same way that virgin pulp is. While more companies are beginning to adopt a chlorine free bleaching process, which is better for the environment, not all companies have switched to new processes. This means that chemicals used in the bleaching process are still released into the environment.
Finally, the amount of electricity used by most recycling plants is approximately 2,500 gigajoules per ton. While recycling does save approximately 4,000 gigajoules per ton over the processing of virgin pulp, there is some argument that the process could be streamlined to save even more.
The Benefits of Recycling Paper
While there are several concerns about the recycling process of paper, there are still multiple benefits to the recycling process. While it does take a great deal of energy to recycle paper, the energy saved by doing so is enough to power the average American house for six months. This savings does offset the amount of energy used by a great deal.
Additionally, the number of trees saved each year is enough to substantially impact the amount of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. On the flip side of that, by recycling paper we are keeping it of landfills, where it will begin to break down, releasing methane gas into the air.
Recycling paper is one of the easiest ways to have a positive impact on the environment. While many environment advocates would like to clean up the process more, the general consensus is that it is heading in the right direction. Do your part by recycling your paper goods, along with your other recyclable materials and know that you are having more of an impact than you think.