Why Recycle Paper?

Chances are you’re already recycling most of your paper waste. But have you ever wondered what happens to all that paper and what are the true carbon footprint reduction benefits of your good intentions? Does all that heavy lifting really amount to more than a hill of beans?  Why Recycle Paper? Can it really reduce your carbon footprint?

To be honest, its not huge, but its a necessary step in the right direction. In the U.S., the paper recycling movement has grown each year since 1990, and now almost 90 percent of Americans have easy access to a local paper-recycling program. Many folks still thinks its complete nonsense.

But this widespread convenience has led to 63 percent of paper waste being recycled in this country, and it’s been proven to be a foolproof way to reduce your carbon footprint.

If you’re still not recycling paper, it’s time to wake up from your hibernation and step out of your cave. The Energy Information Administration EIA calculates that recycling paper results in a 40 percent energy savings over harvesting new wood for virgin fibers.

But what actually happens to your discarded paper?

First, it is sorted and shipped to nearby processing plants that grind it into a pulp, pull out the impurities (staples, clips, ink, etc.) and mix in some new virgin fibers to bring the paper’s stiffness.  Its then reconstituted into either recycled copier paper, newsprint, containerboard, boxboard or tissue. Containerboard and boxboard are the two most frequently-made products from recycled paper fibers. Paper fibers can be recycled six or seven times, but after each reconstitution, the fibers break down further and eventually are too short and become pap. This pap either pressed into kitty litter or hauled off to the landfill or incinerator.

Recycling paper is important for a variety of reasons. Recycling paper reduces greenhouse gases.

  • For starters, it drastically reduces the amount of waste we produce and the space it consumes in landfills. Most large metro areas no longer bury their trash but burn it to generate energy, which produces harmful greenhouse gases. Green Blizzard’s home county – Montgomery County Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C. (population 1 million) incinerates all its trash.  So these paper fibers are eventually burned and generating carbon dioxide.
  • More importantly, recycling reduces the need to harvest more trees and saves them from being ground into virgin paper fibers. Paper manufacturing is an industry that creates a lot of pollution, impacting both the air and water. By recycling, you are using less energy to feed the demand for paper.  Fewer trees are needed to produce paper products if we all recycle, and this means that we can slow the deforestation of both our national lands and commercial growth lands. Plus, trees are very effective carbon sinks.

Magazine Paper – Much of the paper we use for reading purposes contain very small levels of recycled fibers. For instance, magazines are only printed on paper made with 100 percent virgin fibers in order to create a high-quality appearance and produce eye-popping pictures. Many catalogs contain only 10 percent post-consumer recycled paper for the same reasons. This may seem like a small amount on a per-publication basis. But keep in mind the huge volume being printed. In 2001, for instance, catalogs accounted for 3.6 million tons of paper being used, and if all catalogs contained 10 percent of recycled materials, that would amount to 720,000,000 pounds of paper that would not need to come from trees.

Check out Earth911 to find recycling centers near you. And then go and do your part.

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    About the author

    John R. Garnet

    John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.