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Recycling 101: How paper is recycled


*Audience: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students interested in starting a recycling program

*Purpose: to help middle school students gain an understanding in the process of recycling paper


What's the deal with going green?


When the idea of “going green” first came about, many hopped on the bandwagon and promoted the movement with hemp bracelets, trendy handbags, and designer T-shirts sporting “Save the Planet” type mottos. However, going green, or practicing conservation to keep our environment for future generations, has proven to be more than just another Hollywood trend. More and more Americans, guided by national programs like the are taking responsibility for their planet by educating themselves on reducing, reusing, and recycling, and putting this newfound knowledge into action. Before one can begin to conserve, it is important to understand how something as easy as recycling paper can have an impact on our environment (http://www.epa.gov).  


Impact of Recycling Paper:


  • Conserves natural resources (timber, water, minerals) and energy by managing materials more efficiently
  • Reduces greenhouse gas
  • Prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials (http://www.epa.gov
  • Supplies valuable raw materials to industry
  • Creates and protects U.S. manufacturing jobs
  • Reduces the need for new landfills and incinerators (http://earth911.com)  


The impacts of recycling paper are great, namely for the ability to sustain the environment for future generations. Paper is an indispensible part of our daily lives, and while we can hardly live without it, there are definitely things we can do to reuse it.


The Facts:


  • We use about 85 million tons of paper and paperboard
  • We publish more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers each year
  • The average American uses about one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood each year (http://www.epa.gov

  • We use paper for many things, from tissues and diapers, to cereal boxes and fruit trays (http://www.tappi.org) (http://www.paperrecycles.org)   
  •  In 2008, over 57% of the paper used in the U.S. was recovered for recycling

  • By 2012, the paper industry hopes to recover 60% of paper used by Americans for recycling

  • Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space (http://earth911.com




How is paper recycled?  


To understand how paper is recycled, one must familiarize themselves with the basic definitions of recycling and the different stages of the recycling process.


Definitions of Recycling Terms: 


  • Recycling: turning materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources (http://www.epa.org) 

  • Recovered paper: paper that has been consumed and is ready to be recycled

  • Sorting: separating paper that can be reused and recycled

  • Cellulose: organic plant material

  • Pulp: mixture of old paper turned into strands of cellulose

  • Virgin fiber: new fiber that can be mixed in with recycled fiber to increase the strength of recycled paper (http://tappi.org
  • Web: crude paper sheet resulting from pulp once it has been drained from water (http://www.paperrecycles.org)  





Before the process of recycling begins, recovered paper must be sorted. Paper must be clean and kept away from food, trash and other contaminants. Paper that has been contaminated cannot be used for recycling, but will instead be composted, burned for energy, or dumped in a landfill. When paper has been sorted, it is taken to a recycling center or a Material Recovery Facility (MRF), wrapped in tight bales, then transported to a paper mill where the recycling takes place (http://www.tappi.org) (http://www.paperrecycles.org)




Once the recovered paper is at the paper mill, it is separated according to grade and type. Then it's stored in warehouses until needed for recycling (http://www.tappi.org)


Repulping and Screening


Paper is placed on a conveyor belt that transports it to a pulper, a large vat filled with water and chemicals. The pulper chops and shreds the paper into small pieces. This mixture is then heated to break the paper down into fibers, which eventually turn into a mixture called pulp. The mixture is strained through screens that remove small contaminants like plastic and glue (http://www.tappi.org) (http://www.paperrecycles.org)



The pulp is then cleaned by being spun around in large cone-shaped cylinders, which throw out heavy contaminants (like staples) out of the mixture and collect lighter contaminants in the center of the cone which are removed later (http://www.tappi.org)




In the process of washing, small particles of ink are rinsed from the pulp with water. Then, larger particles and glue residue are removed with air bubbles in a process called flotation (http://www.tappi.org)


Refining, Bleaching, and Color Stripping


In the refining stage, the pulp mixture is turned to slush in a beater making the fibers swell. Refining also separates any clumps of fibers into individual fibers. Color stripping chemicals are used to remove dyes if the recovered paper is colored. If the recycled paper is planned to be used for copy or print paper, it will also have to be bleached with hydrogen peroxide, chlorine dioxide, or oxygen on order to be made whiter (http://www.tappi.org) (http://www.paperrecycles.org)




The clean pulp is now ready to be turned into recycled paper. Sometimes, virgin fiber may be added to recycled fibers to make the paper stronger and smoother. It is combined with water and chemicals until it is 99.5% water.


The mixture goes into a metal box called the headbox that sprays the pulpy mixture onto a screen which moves quickly through the paper machine (http://www.tappi.org). As the water drains from the pulp, the recycled fibers combine to form a watery sheet called web, which then moves quickly though press rollers, squeezing out excess water.


To dry, the sheet then passes through heated metal rollers. At this point, a coating mixture can be added to give the paper a smooth and glossy finish. The paper is wound into a large roll that can weigh up to 25 tons, then cut into smaller rolls or sheets before being transported to a converting plant where paper products are made (http://www.tappi.org) (http://www.paperrecycles.org)



What can you do?



Preserving our planet is a big task, but if everyone does their part, we can preserve our environment for future generations. According to the Paper Industry Association Council, 87% (approximately 268 million) of Americans have access to curbside recycling or drop-off programs. It’s convenient, it’s easy, and something everyone can do to help our planet. If you want to more, here are some things you can do in your classroom, school, or community (http://www.paperrecycles.org)

  • Use both sides of the paper to do your homework and classwork

  • Collect cardboard boxes and distribute them to teachers to use as recycling bins 

  • Encourage other students to recycle their unwanted papers instead of throwing them in the trash

  • Ask a favorite teacher to help you start a school-wide recycling program. Need help? Go to  

http://www.paperrecycles.org/school_recycling/index.html#, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on the following link in the green box: a guide for developing a recycling program at your school. This website will give you all the tools and information you need to start your recycling program. Good luck, and stay green! 











J Save the planet! GO GREEN! J



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