Paper, which includes everything from packaging to mail, makes up the largest percentage of the municipal solid waste stream at 33 percent. It’s also one of the most recovered materials, as recycling opportunities are often readily available.
Frequent Paper Recycling Questions
Is all paper recycled the same way?
Yes and no. Paper consists of fibers. The longer the fiber, the more valuable the paper is during the recycling process. As paper is recycled over and over, the fibers become shorter and must be downcycled into tissue or toilet paper. While these materials are still valuable, they aren’t as valuable as strong, white office paper with long fibers.
The EPA identifies five basic paper grade categories: Old corrugated containers, mixed paper, old newspapers, high grade deinked paper and pulp substitutes. All of these paper grades are recycled in a similar manner (mixing with water to form a slurry), but each has its own ideal end-use. For example, old newspaper is usually used to make tissue or recycled-content newsprint, while high grade paper is reprocessed into products like printing and writing papers.
Can I recycle wet or soiled paper?
Unfortunately, no. Food is one of the worst contaminants in the paper recycling process. Grease, oil and other liquids are not as big of a problem for plastic, metal and glass, as those materials are recycled using a heat process. But when paper products, such as copy paper, cardboard and paperboard, are recycled, they are mixed with water and turned into a slurry. Since we all know water and oil don’t mix, the issue is clear.
To avoid contaminating your local recycling stream, toss soiled paper in the trash, or remove all soiled portions before recycling the rest of your paper.
Can I recycle shredded paper?
Yes, but there’s a catch.
Once you shred your documents, it shortens the fibers and lowers the grade of paper from high grade to mixed grade. Mixed grade paper is still recyclable, but you may have a harder time finding a recycler that will take it.
Before shredding your paper, think about why you need to shred it. If only a few lines of information are confidential, try using a permanent marker to conceal the information (ink does not affect the recycling process), or only rip your paper a few times before tossing it in the recycling bin.