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Insight: How do you recycle paper?

Aug 20, 2015

In the UK we recycle over 78% of our paper and have already exceeded the European Declaration on Paper Recycling for 2011 to 2015. As a nation, we use over 12.5 million tonnes of paper each year.

In 2008, a study showed that 11 million tonnes of CO2 was avoided by recycling paper. This equates to taking 3.5 million cars of the road.

The Paper Recycling Process

Waste paper is first collected by local authorities and private companies, which then grade the paper into 5 groups. Ordinary Grades, Medium Grades, High Grades, Kraft Grades and Special Grades. This was last revised in 2013.

Once graded and baled the paper is then sent to paper mills around the world. With Switzerland in particular recycling the most per head of population in the world.

The mill will then pulp the paper in vast tanks and separate it into the various grades of fibre. By using different chemicals such as soap & water, hydrogen peroxide and caustic soda.

The fibre is then refined to take out any impurities such as paper clips, plastic coatings, staples and sticky tape. It is then pumped into flotation tanks where the ink is removed and, as a result, the paper becomes whiter, adding whitening agents further enhances this. At this stage, the pulp is 99% water and only 1% fibre.

To remove the water content, the pulp is passed through hot rollers or vibrating machines. This will then reduce the pulp to 50% water 50% fibre. The water is then sent back into the system and re-used. The water is then further reduced by the drying section and heated rollers with temperature of unto 130 degrees, all the time the paper is getting whiter and smoother.

The final part of the process is to extract the last of the water by running it through rollers that act like a huge ironing board. Make the paper into different grades. Wound into massive rolls of up to 30 tonnes the paper is test and transfer into smaller rolls or sheets.

Environmental impact

As we recycle more and more paper the fibres get shorter and as a result it will not last forever. As the fibre shortens it can be mixed with longer fibres and used as filler, or it can be used for energy generation, soil conditioner products or sent to landfill.

To get the most out of recycling paper, we must try not to contaminate it with other waste material, preventing it from going into a landfill site. Which once broken down will produce methane gas a harmful product that contribute to the greenhouse effect on the planet.

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