Practically every industry uses paper and paperboard (cardboard). While it is often considered disposable, it is becoming increasingly precious as unsustainable deforestation continues around the world.
For decades, both paper and cardboard have been the focus of recycling campaigns, and as processes become more efficient, more products are being manufactured from recycled material-but how effective is the paper and card recycling process, and how does the paper recycling process work?
How can cardboard and paper be recycled?
The paper recycling process has a major limitation in that fibers are shortened each time they pass through it. Thus, paper and card can only be recycled four to six times before they become unusable. Paper and card are more resistant to processing than other common recycled materials. Aluminum and glass, for example, can be recycled any number of times without deterioration. Plastic, for example, can be processed seven to nine times.
Multiple-material products pose a problem for existing systems, so separating them before they are processed is both necessary and time-consuming, Additionally, there are certain products that must be excluded from the paper and cardboard recycling process from the beginning.
Paper that is soiled cannot be recycled and should not be included with other paper and card products. The term ‘soiled’ does not refer to printing, but to contaminants like oil. So, items such as pizza boxes lined with grease, napkins, take-out boxes, and used paper plates should be separated and sent to landfills or incinerators. When they do end up in the recycling bin, the oil in them can contaminate the entire paper slurry (part of the recycling process for paper) and ruin otherwise recyclable items.
Turning the page on paper waste
Compared with other materials, such as plastic, the recycling process for paper and cardboard may seem relatively simple, but it still requires energy, resources, time, and money. In addition, while these materials are generally biodegradable, wasting virgin paper by sending it to landfills or incinerators puts a heavy burden on our forests, as well as waste management infrastructure.
Prior to recycling, sustainable waste management begins with reducing waste and reusing products wherever possible. As a consequence, manufacturing and recycling processes will be minimized and we will be able to keep manufactured materials in the loop for as long as possible.
In general, products like juice cartons that are coated in plastic, wax, or foil cannot be recycled. There have been significant advances in recycling in recent years, so check with your local provider to see if they are able to recycle certain coated papers.
In the paper recycling process, not every item is of equal quality. In what manner a paper or card is dealt with and what it becomes depends on its type and grade.
What are the types and grades of paper and card?
In the paper recycling process, the EPA identifies four basic paper and cardboard categories. These include:
Old Corrugated Containers (OCC)
The most common type of shipping box is corrugated cardboard, also called corrugated board. As online shopping and delivery services continue to grow, recycling of this item is increasingly popular both at home and at work. OCC is often converted into new corrugated cardboard boxes and paperboard for products like cereal boxes and shoe boxes.
This is where the bulk of the paper products will be stored. These include magazines, catalogs, junk mail, and paperboard. Shedded paper is usually included in this category as well. These items are often made into paperboard, tissue, or secondary fibers for other types of paper.
In addition to drywall, insulation, and roofing felt, recycled mixed paper is also used to make other products.
Old Newspapers (ONP)
Basically, this grade consists only of newsprint. Paperboard and tissue can also be made from ONP, which is most often used for making new newsprint.
High-Grade De-inked Paper
The items in this category include office paper, envelopes, etc. As the name implies, the paper must be de-inkered in order to be repurposed into new, high-end products.