Debunking Recycling Paper

Recycle, recycle, recycle!

Recycling bins are a common thing to see almost everywhere we go. We are encouraged at a very young age to recycle everything we can and that by recycling we are making a difference to the environment. The universal recycling symbol is so universal that that’s all it takes for people to understand that recyclables go in that bin with that symbol. The three-sided symbol stands for a powerful three-part message: reduce, reuse but most importantly, recycle. Most people believe that if it rips and is paper material related it can be recycled but the truth is that unfortunately things like napkins, paper towels, and anything coated with other materials can’t go in the recycle bin. Don’t worry all those paper napkins and towels still have hope.To become a more effective recycler and help save the planet, one must first understand why not all paper can be recycled and what can be done instead with the non recycled paper.

Why can’t all types paper be recycled?

Most paper can be recycled, but recycling paper can become an issue when paper is contaminated with other substances. When paper is recycled it is mixed with water and turned into slurry. Food is the worst type of contaminant for paper because this can contaminate the paper with oils and greases. This is more commonly seen with pizza boxes. The grease from those cheesy, greasy pizzas make it hard to recycle because the process to recycle requires water. The oil and water won’t mix when the recycling process takes place. Of course we observed and understood this concept in science class at a very young age that water and oil don’t mix no matter how hard we try to make the two liquids mix. This is why greasy type of contaminants can cause entire batches of recyclables to be ruined during the recycling process. This is the reason that other food related items are non-recyclable. This includes: used paper plates, used napkins and used paper towels. Not only does food contaminants make it hard to recycle paper but so does shredding.

Shredded paper is another obstacle that can be encountered when recycling paper. Most people shred their paper to get rid of sensitive material and in that case shredding is the way to go because when paper is shredded the value of the paper decreases because the length of the paper fibers are shortened. This is a problem because the paper fibers are the source of value of the paper. Paper that hasn’t been shredded has long fibers that are shorten every time it gets recycled. If recycled properly the non-shredded paper can be recycled up to eight times. However, shredded paper is lucky to be even recycled once because some places won’t even accept shredded paper. It[1] is recommended instead to rip paper by hand into three or four parts. There are programs around that focus on shredded paper if shredding paper is a must but most recycling places rather not deal with shredded paper.

The color of paper can also determine the fate of recycling paper.Brightly[2] colored paper is another obstacle when it comes to recycling. The understanding behind this obstacle is the same as when a red sock gets in with the load of whites. We all know what happens when that red sock mysteriously makes its way with our whites-it socks! The same thing can happen when trying to recycle paper because most paper we use on an everyday life is white or lightly colored.Paper mills usually can handle lighter tone colors but really bright and fluorescent colors are really hard to recycle in a batch full of white paper.

Don’t give up, there’s hope!

To help the confusion with what can be recycled and what some recycling bins have pictures or writing instead of just the universal symbol for recycling. By listing what can be recycled or by depicting what can be recycled it makes it easier for someone who is trying to recycle to recycle and easier for the recycling facilities to do their job. For all of those worried about all those paper napkins and towels there is an even better solution. An environmentally friendly approach for non paper recyclables is composting. According to, “ Paper products that are soiled with food waste cannot be recycled and should be composted instead. All those napkins and dirty plates are an excellent source of carbon — a necessary element for a successful compost pile — and they will also help to absorb any excess moisture in your compost” . Composting is the way to go for those who are really invested in saving our planet. With a better understanding on what type of papers can be recycled and solutions or alternatives with what to do with the non paper recyclables , paper can have a better chance to used more than once.

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