The Secret Lifecycle of Recycled Paper
As much as technology surrounds us, we are far from being a paperless society — from sales receipts to instruction manuals to children’s homework, paper is an intrinsic part of our society. Fortunately, paper is also fairly easy to recycle, and comes from a renewable (albeit slowly renewable) resource. But do you really know where your paper comes from, and where it goes after you put it in the recycle bin?
Here’s a look at the life of a typical sheet of paper, from the woods to your desk to your recycling bin, and back to a paper product again:
1. Paper begins its life as wood, either from a tree that is newly felled, or from wood scraps from lumber processing (this is referred to as pre-consumer waste). Paper that's made from all newly-felled wood, rather than from any recycled materials, is called “virgin fiber paper”.
DID YOU KNOW? Different types of wood yield different qualities of paper. Hardwood trees have short fibers, good for smooth writing paper. Softwood trees have longer fibers, which are better for durability, as in shipping cardboard.
2. The wood is processed into chips, and then further processed into pulp, a watery mush. In many cases the pulp is then bleached using chlorine, so that the final paper product is a brighter color, like the bright white paper available for printing at home. Incidentally, chlorine can be harmful to the environment, so when you're buying paper you might consider paper labeled “Elemental Chlorine Free” [ECF], "Processed Chlorine Free" [PCF] or “Totally Chlorine Free” [TCF], all of which indicate the use of more benign chemicals than chlorine — a definite check in the pros column.