How to Recycle Paper

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on January 16, 2023

Paper is a commonly used material, and most people use it in their daily lives. From toilet paper to printing and writing paper, tissues and wipes, and other household items, paper products are everywhere in homes, offices, schools, and other places.

Paper is also among one of the most common recyclable products, and it's also easy to recycle paper. Paper makes up a significant portion of all waste materials in the United States. In fact, paper is responsible for around 23% of yearly municipal solid waste.

Because paper is an easily recycled material, many Americans recycle it, and around 68% of paper was recycled in 2018 alone. However, many others fail to do their part, and, as a result, some paper recycling products go to waste, filling up landfills and cluttering street corners.

Many types of paper products can be recycled, including: 

  • Books 
  • Cardboard containers and boxes
  • Gift wrap (as long as it isn’t shiny or laminated) 
  • Magazines
  • Mail and envelopes 
  • Newspapers
  • Pizza boxes
  • Shredded paper 
  • Takeout containers 

A few items, such as shredded paper and takeout containers, may vary between recycling programs. It’s best to reach out to your local recyclers to see what kind of paper products they accept.

What Is Paper Made of?

So, what is paper made of? Paper is primarily made from trees. Other plants can be used in the paper-making process, too. Cellulose is the main component used to make paper, which can be found in trees and plants.

However, paper is also made from various materials such as wood pulp, water plants, old clothes, rice, and cotton. No matter which material is used to make paper, fiber is a must. Paper fiber is primarily taken from three sources: byproducts from sawmills, pulpwood logs, and recycled paper products. Many paper products are blended from new and old fibers.

One example of how paper is made begins with a sawmill. The sawmill cuts and harvests trees to turn into lumber. The trees are cut into logs and transported to the sawmill, where it’s then debarked and cut into boards. Leftover wood is processed into wood chips and placed into a machine to be broken down into cellulose fibers and other components. These components are screened and cleaned several times to ensure optimal quality for papermaking.

Once the cellulose fibers have been cleaned and deemed appropriate, they are placed into a paper-making machine, where they are bonded together to create paper. The now-damp paper is transferred through heated rollers, where it is pressed and dried.

Is Paper Bad for the Environment? 

"Is paper bad for the environment?" is a common question many people have regarding paper products. 

Paper has significant negative impacts on the environment. For example, trees must be cut down to create paper products. Cutting down trees contributes to climate change, soil erosion, flooding, the emission of greenhouse gasses, and many other environmental issues.

Aside from that, the process of making paper can release toxic chemicals, cause industrial pollution, and create a significant amount of paper waste.

Can I Recycle Paper?

If you're wondering, "Can I recycle paper?", the answer is yes, most paper products can be recycled. To ensure that your paper products can be properly recycled, check with your local recycling departments. 

How to Recycle Paper?

If you’re interested in recycling paper products, there are a few steps you can take to begin your journey and learn how to recycle paper. First, contact your local garbage company to see what type of recycling programs they offer. They will often lend you a recycling bin to recycle your papers and plastics. Many public places also provide free-to-use recycling bins. If you’re having trouble finding these bins, contact local businesses and recycling programs to see what they suggest. 

Make sure your paper is clean, the cardboard is flattened, and any food containers are clear from food. 

Paper Recycling Process

The recycling paper process is a relatively simple one. Once a recycling bin has been filled, the recycled papers are collected from curbside programs, public venues, offices, and drop-off centers. The collected papers are taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and placed onto a conveyer belt to remove pollutants and other contaminants. After this process, any recovered paper is separated and baled. It is then taken to a paper mill where it is then loaded into a pulper or a giant blender. The paper is mixed with water and other components, churned, and broken down into fibers. The fibers are cleaned and dried out. Then, new paper is produced in its place.

Recycled Paper Uses

Recycled paper has many uses. Most often, it is used to create new paper products, which helps save on natural resources, such as trees.

Other Considerations

There are a few things to consider when recycling products, including paper. These considerations are: 

  • Ensuring that your product is clean. Dirty products, including paper products, can cause contamination and make an entire bale unusable. Unusable items are sent to landfills. 
  • Flatten any cardboard products or boxes. Cardboard can take up room in recycling bins. Flattening it gives more room for other recyclable products. 
  • Separate your recyclables from non-recyclables. This includes using designated recycle bins at home and at work and can help ensure that your recyclables are sent to the appropriate place.
  • Before recycling, consider reducing waste by purchasing reusable products and re-using items where applicable. 

Besides recycling, you can also be mindful of the types of products you purchase. Try purchasing products that have been created through recycled fibers and paper. You can also purchase reusable paper items, such as reusable gift bags and reusable dishware and flatware. Instead of using paper towels and napkins, use reusable cloth towels and napkins.

Cardboard boxes have many purposes to be reused, too. For example, if you find yourself having to ship something to someone, you can reuse a cardboard box that you received an item in. 

Lastly, you can consider donating items such as books and notebooks. Many places could use donated items, such as schools, charities, and non-profits.

Show Sources

American Forest & Paper Association: “Paper Recycling Process.”
Idaho Forest Products: “HOW PAPER IS MADE.”
One Green Planet: “The Problem with the Paper Industry.”
Pachamama Alliance: “Effects of Deforestation.”
The Student Conservation Association: “How to Recycle and Why You Should Do It.”
United States Environmental Protection Agency: “How Do I Recycle?: Common Recyclables.”
University of Georgia Extension: “Recycle.”
Vermont Public: “How Is Paper Made?”

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