With the rising cost of gas getting so much attention we are beginning to take a more serious look at our environment. Everyone has heard the term “recycled paper” but how many of us really know what that means? Here is a brief explanation of how recycled paper is made.
In very simple terms, recycled paper is made much the same way as brand new, virgin paper. The basic difference in taking paper that has been used previously and reusing or recycling it is that the used or waste paper must first be cleaned.
1) Collection. Waste paper is collected or recovered by collection or recycling centers. It is then sorted by grade and forwarded to paper mills to be used in the recycled paper making process.
2) Breaking it down. Waste paper is put into large vats to which water and chemicals are added. This mixture is stirred by large beaters to separate the paper fibers that are then forced through a screening process to remove the large contaminants from the pulped fibers. The remaining mixture or pulp as it is now called is put in a centrifuge that spins the mushy mixture to separate the dense or even more undesirable foreign particles from the mix.
3) Washing it clean. Almost clean, it is time to remove the ink from the pulp in a process called deinking. This is done much like your laundry. Detergents called surfactants are added to wash the pulp and air is injected that causes bubbles to float through the mixture taking the ink with it. The resulting foam layer is removed from the top to leave the now cleaned and deinked pulp behind. If necessary, further bleaching may be required to produce even whiter paper.
4) Remixing. At this point the recycled fiber can be added to new or virgin wood fibers if desired. You will notice that recycled paper is often labeled as 100% recycled with a certain percentage of post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer waste is material that was discarded before product made its way to the consumer such as scrap from the paper making process at the paper mill. Post-consumer waste is material discarded after the consumer used it, such as old newspapers. Mixing post-consumer and virgin wood fibers assures a strong paper bond.
5) Making the paper. The mixture is now ready to be made into paper just as it would be if it were totally new fibers. The pulp is mixed with water and chemicals and refined by spreading it across a fast moving screen, allowing water to drain. A series of felt rollers and heated metal rollers force even more water from the mixture leaving what looks almost like paper behind. A coating may be added at this point to add a certain finish to the paper, like a glossy or dull coating for example. The finished paper is then wound on huge rolls.
The next time you see the recycled or chasing arrows symbol on paper products you will have a much better understanding of the process that went into the making of that product. You might also be interested in noticing the percentage of post-consumer fibers used. Paper products like holiday cards usually print that information on the back of the card. Take a look and do your part by recycling your post-consumer products and by buying products printed on recycled paper.