Recycle or Compost? Paper Products

Recycle or Compost? Paper Products

Despite predictions about paperless offices and the demise of print publications, Americans still use more than 90 million tons of paper and cardboard a year. In fact, 17% of the wood harvested annually is used to manufacture paper, a process in which the cellulose fibers in wood are chemically or mechanically separated into pulp, which is then pressed into paper. In addition to the environmental damage caused by tree farms, all those paper products also represent a huge investment of other resources like energy and water. Paper products also account for 35% of all solid municipal waste. Fortunately, paper is both easily recycled and composted, which makes it simple for you to make smart choices when it comes to paper products.

When to Recycle  

Recycling has several benefits: not only does it keep paper out of landfills, but it also reduces the resources that go into the production of new paper productions. Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely, but the fibers can usually be recycled 5-7 times before they are no longer usable. In 2010, 63% of paper waste was recovered for recycling, and recycled pulp accounted for 33% of new paper products. Recycling centers will accept most types of paper including regular office paper, construction paper, newspaper, phone books, and cardboard. Other paper products can be recycled with a little effort. For example, you should try to remove staples from magazines and catalogues and to cut out plastic windows from envelopes, although some recycling programs will accept these items whole. Paper products that are heavily inked, like wrapping paper, or have a plastic coating like some cups and plates also cannot be recycled. Finally, make sure that all paper products that go into the recycling bin are clean and free of food or other contaminants: the oil from food can ruin paper pulp.

When to Compost

Paper products that are soiled with food waste cannot be recycled and should be composted instead. All those napkins and dirty plates are an excellent source of carbon – a necessary element for a successful compost pile – and they will also help to absorb any excess moisture in your compost. Avoid paper products with any sort of plastic lining that will not decompose as well as glossy magazines or ads because they are likely to contain toxic additives in the ink and will also take longer to decompose. Also be careful with items like pizza boxes: too much fat or oil in a compost bin can lead to rotting and poor quality compost. Before adding any paper to your compost bin, remember to shred it to ensure quick decomposition.

What Kind of Paper to Buy

When possible, it’s best to recycled paper, so avoid paper products with any sort of plastic lining that will not be recyclable. You can also help by supporting companies that make paper products from recycled materials. Look for products that advertise the highest amount of pre- or post-consumer recycled content, and also keep an eye out for products with the FSC certification label, which guarantees that any non-recycled pulp has come from sustainably managed forests.

Recycled Paper Products to Consider: 


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