Paper is the most commonly recycled material in the United States. It’s also the easiest to do—many offices have bins and most cities offer either curbside or drop off programs. Remember in grade school when your teacher reminded you not to waste paper because it comes from trees? There’s truth in what she said — one-third of the United States is forested for paper and lumber. The less trees we cut down, the better the air quality is as we diminish the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
To reiterate, recycling paper is really easy to do, so there’s no excuse not to. The good news is–more Americans are recycling paper than ever before. Since 2000, the amount of paper that goes into the landfill has decreased almost in half (from 41 million tons to 21 million tons in 2014). Still, that amounts to a lot of paper that isn’t being recycled. For every ton of paper that is recycled, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space is made available. Yet to focus on the positive, 65% of all paper was put back into making new paper. So, we’re making progress.
Although paper is recycled in abundance, most of us don’t think about what actually happens to it once we slip a stack into the blue bin. Turns out it’s a pretty cool process. First it goes to a material recovery facility where it’s stripped of things that can’t be recycled, like staples and the plastic film from envelopes. The paper is then baled, taken to the paper mill and reduced to the bare fiber. From there, it’s shredded and mixed with water to make a pulp (like what happens when your newspaper gets left in the rain). After that, the pulp is processed through a machine, flattened, dyed and turned into paper, like Hewlett Packard’s Multipurpose Paper. As this process is made easier (and more cost effective) for paper companies, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make recycling user friendly.
The innovations when it comes to paper production and recycling have made huge leaps. A recent prototype by Epson will revolutionize the recycling industry with a printer that destroys documents and then uses a dry process to turn them into office paper. However, this will undoubtedly be costlier than their Epson Expression XP-410 Wireless Printer, which is both a workhorse and a great bargain. For those of us who continue to recycle the old-fashioned way, paper will go to the recycling center and get turned into cardboard, newsprint and tissue paper.
Unlike plastic, paper is easier to uniformly recycle. However, just in case there is uncertainty about which kinds of paper can be recycled, here is a list of the acceptable items (just make sure to scrape the cheese of the pizza box because it needs to be clean and dry)
- white/colored paper
- cereal or other food boxes
- mail (even envelopes containing plastic windows)
- shopping bags
- corrugated cardboard
- glossy magazines
- milk or juice cartons
- hard and paperback books (if in poor condition and can’t be donated)
- telephone books
This is a list of companies that already trust us with their recycling process. Join them.