Things you should know about recycling paper.

paper stckNot long ago I wrote a post about whether or not pizza boxes can be recycled.  I quickly realized that this is only scratching the surface of a topic that often leaves us scratching our heads.

So while we all likely understand the fundamentals of a paper recycling, there is also some uncertainty about the details.  Here are a few things you (may not, but) SHOULD know!

  • DO NOT let the paper get wet.  Since recyclers purchase paper by weight, the entire lot may get rejected if they see wet paper.  Check your weather before it goes to the curb unless you are certain the rain won’t get in!
  • No food! Dirty paper plates, napkins, paper towels, etc. are, unfortunately, trash… or should go to compost.  But please, not in the recycle bin – they will quickly cross contaminate the other contents.
  • Do not worry about little things like small paper clips, plastic envelope windows, staples, labels, metal envelope latches or even notebook spirals.  Unlike food matter, they separate easily in processing and can be removed from the batch.paper recyc
  • Watch the adhesives! Heavily glued (sticky) items can ruin batches of recycled paper.  Don’t toss in those “complimentary” address labels and other stickers.  Post-It Notes are fine but if an envelope has a heavy self-stick flap, tear it off first.
  • Allow tape in moderation. Some tape here and there won’t hurt, but if a box is wrapped in yards of shipping tape, remove it as best you can.  Paper tape is A-OK!
  • Don’t shred paper unless you must – most recyclers don’t like accepting shredded paper because it’s a challenge to sort.  If you are a “shredder”, contain it in a paper bag first (or it can be composed!).
  • Skip the heavy-dye, saturated papers with deep, dark colors or fluorescents.  It’s difficult to bleach them back to a usable form.
  • No plastic or wax coated papers (like paper cups), but glossy papers (like magazines) are acceptable.
  • Consider dropping your paper at a local paper retriever site (at schools, churches or other non-profits…like this service in my area). You can be assured that your paper is being recycled AND it can benefit an organization by helping them earn money.

Remember, the EPA estimates that 40% of solid waste in the U.S. is paper products… shameful!  But paper can actually be recycled up to seven times, and it is easier and cheaper to make pulp from recycled fibers than from wood… awesome!  And one more tidbit to share:

Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees… and those 17 saved trees can absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year!

I hope you never look at paper the same way again… paper recycling rules!

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"Going green" has always been a part of my daily life. It began, as a little girl, when I helped my mom gather the recyclables and deliver them to a recycling center. It continues today, as a mom myself, when I teach my own children those same responsible virtues.

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21 thoughts on “Things you should know about recycling paper.

  1. This is useful information, but I think some of it may be dependent on your local recycling company. I find it incredibly difficult to decide just what I can and can’t recycle, even with fairly detailed descriptions from my recycling collector. They tell us we can recycle shredded paper as long as it is in a paper bag. They also say we can recycle beverage containers, which I take to mean wax covered paper such as milk cartons and paper cups, so I don’t know if they process them differently or what exactly qualifies. It may also be that your collector does their own processing, in which case wet paper should be no problem, but until I know for sure in my area I will try to prevent my paper from becoming wet from now on.

    I have always wondered about the stickers and about plastic envelope windows. I usually remove the windows, good to know I don’t have to. But I am now more annoyed at the environmental charities who send me huge mailings full of address labels that can’t be recycled!

  2. Thanks for this– I never knew that it was okay to leave staples in, or that shredding was bad. Gus, I agree that it’s incredibly difficult to figure out local recycling rules, and I think that probably prevents a lot of people from participating. Does anyone know of any good comprehensive resources online?

  3. You know, I have seen recycle bins in my neighborhood chock full of non-recyclable items. I also learned that in my community, it mostly doesn’t matter. Our recycling collector actually has human beings sorting all the items who toss out what doesn’t belong. Of course things like oils on paper that might be overlooked but can contaminate the process are still a problem. One also has to wonder how diligent minimum wage employees are in sorting recyclables.

  4. This is really a big help! I have always been a fan of recycling however wasn’t always sure what was safe and what wasn’t. Surprised to hear to staples and spiral bound notebooks are ok. Thanks for the recycling 101!

  5. Pingback: » » Things you should know about recycling paper. - Mom Goes Green

  6. Gus – undoubtedly the do’s and don’ts will vary from area to area. And yes, dependent upon who does the recycling. I tried to compile a list of things from an overall standpoint, such as small metals and plastics being able to separate out during processing. It’s a tricky thing, without question! I guess we all just have to make the best decisions from the information we have and hope that our recycling gets properly managed!

    Kirsten – unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any comprehensive resources online… or at least I haven’t found them. Again, it goes back to local rules, but I at least know that all of the hints I’ve given are accurate from an overall standpoint!

  7. Thanks! I’ve been having some doubts. I wasn’t sure about for example the metal envelope latches. But of course you can not recycle things with food and stuff in it, that’s what I try to tell my room-mates..but they do not agree with me.

  8. Doreen – I just wish local governments/recycling collectors would put out information as clearly and concisely as you did, so we would all know what to do. Nothing perplexes me more than the notion that I am somehow screwing up the process by putting the wrong things in the bin. I think a lot of things that could be recycled aren’t because people feel this way. Similarly, some people just don’t seem to care and probably do screw up the process.

    Here’s one for you, what about plastic rings on bottles? The recycling company says to remove lids, but it says nothing about the little rings around the bottle neck. I always take them off, but sometimes it’s really hard to do.

  9. allungamento pene – “get after” those roommates! Show them this post and tell them NO FOOD and “STUFF!”

    Sonja – THANKS! Love that you “love it!”

    Gus – It’s a frustrating situation, without doubt! Even with our local recycler the information can get very confusing and I’m sure that discourages many people. As for the plastic rings on bottles, I understand that you don’t need to remove them. Plastic bottles don’t often get recycled back into new bottles… they get recycled into new products, like plastic decking, “fillers” for products, tool handles, carpet backing, etc. so those minor “contaminants” don’t ruin the plastics that are traditionally considered recycleable. Hope that helps!

    Betsey – so glad Sonja guided you here! But I honestly have no tips specifically for photographers, although I truly believe that digital cameras have done wonders for environmental/green photography. If you would like a few more hints check here: http://earth911.com/blog/2008/10/20/8-ways-to-green-your-photography/ Thanks for visiting! Please come back! :)

  10. Eeeks, didn’t know that about shredded paper that’s certainly a shame for those “secret” documents I am always shredding. Seems a waist to put all the shredded paper into another bag before recycling though.

    On a side note related to recycling I was just reading an article in the paper about a local roadway project that used something like 2.6 million shredded tires to line a boggy section of land before paving the road – good to know there is a use for those pesky tires eh?
    .-= Earth Friendly Goodies´s last blog ..Earth Exer-Clogs: My New Sexy-Bum-a-Nators =-.

  11. I’m a member of my local recycling coalition and we have so many issues with people not following the rules. The worst is people keep putting plastic bags in the recycling. And trash! I end up mad every time I take my recycling to any of our recycling drop offs.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Have You Joined Yet? =-.

  12. Pingback: » More recycling do’s and don’ts… answered. - Mom Goes Green

  13. If your recycling company doesn’t take shredded paper, there are still a lot of other things you can do with it. You can use the shreds from your paper shredder to mail items, in place of the “peanuts”. Or you can use the shreds in crafts such as paper mache, or as paper hair for paper dolls. There are a lot of things you can do with the shreds. Especially if the paper is different colors. Or you can use it in your compost pile.

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