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Recycling in the Paper Industry

Have you ever wondered what happens to a piece of paper when you recycle it? The paper industry is responsible for most of the recycling now taking place in the United States. And 1993 was the first year in history in which more paper was recycled than was buried in landfills. But recycling is not as simple as it may seem...

Paper can be recycled only 5 to 8 times before the fibers in the paper become too short and weak to be reused. Old newspapers are commonly used to make tissue and cardboard, while magazines are often recycled into newsprint. Interestingly, the clay originally added to the paper to make it glossy will help to separate the ink from the paper during recycling.

How Paper is Recycled

First, the waste paper must be collected. One of the most expensive parts of recycling is the collection, sorting, baling, and transportation of waste paper. You can help by presorting your household waste, by separating newspapers, for example, from magazines. It is also important to keep the paper out of rain and sunlight, because exposure to the elements makes it harder to remove the ink from the paper.

The next step in the recycling process is repulping. The bales of sorted waste paper are soaked in large vats, where they disintegrate into fibers. Chemicals are added at this point so that, when ink particles start to separate from the paper, they can't reattach themselves to the pulp.

To remove the ink, the pulp is fed into a deinking system. First, a series of increasingly fine screens remove extraneous material (known as "trash"), coatings and additives, and extremely small contaminants such as fillers and loose ink particles. The screened pulp is sent through several cleaning stages, where heat, chemicals, and mechanical action may be used to loosen ink particles. Finally, the pulp mixture enters a flotation device, where calcium soap and other chemicals are added. Air bubbles in the mixture float the remaining ink to the surface, where it is skimmed away.

The deinked pulp is now sent to the stock preparation area, where it is treated and loaded into the headbox of a paper machine. From this point, the pulp is treated just the same as if it had been freshly made from wood chips rather than recycled.

At the end of the recycling process, a new paper product has been produced from material that might otherwise have been dumped in a landfill. Recycling is an important way for consumers and papermakers to work together for a cleaner environment.

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Institute of Paper Science and Technology at Georgia Tech - Atlanta, Georgia
Last updated - June 13, 2006