Paper Recycling

In the recycling world, paper is a pretty big success story. In the United States, there is a 63% paper recycling rate, and it consists of half of the collected recyclables. Even with the encouraging numbers regarding paper recycling, a lot more can be done. Waste paper still accounts for roughly 33% of our annual garbage output, so there is definitely room for improvement.

We usually think of newspaper recycling, or paper cardboard as common items to be recycled, but there is conflicting information on the full scope of paper recycling and how and what can be recycled.

In this article we will cover:

  • How and where to recycle paper properly
  • The paper recycling process
  • Facts about paper recycling
  • Environmentally friendly tips to reduce paper consumption

Paper Recycling Facts

  • Today 40% of paper pulp is produced from wood, although in most modern mills most of the wood is reclaimed and not from newly felled trees. 
  • Each ton of paper recycled can save up to 17 trees
  • That same ton (2000 lbs) of recycled paper saves 3 cubic yards of landfill space and 7000 gallons of water!
  • A typical office generates one pound of paper per employee, and 77% of that is wasted
  • Most of the paper wasted is a high grade 
  • Newspaper can be recycled into egg cartons, new newsprint, gift boxes, and insulation among other uses.

How Paper is Recycled

When we do our part and separate our paper into a paper recycling bin, it is sent to a recycling processing plant. At the facility it is separated by type and grade. It is then washed in a soapy solution to remove inks, film, adhesives, and staples.

After the paper is “clean” it is processed differently depending upon what is going to be made from it. Paper pulp that will be made into new paper products or paper towels may be bleached, while new cardboard made from recycled material does not need to be bleached out. It is spread out onto wide screens for water to drain off, and then passed through heated pressers.

The material is then sent to a paper manufacturing location known as a paper mill.

What Is Made Out of Recycled Paper?

At the paper mill, the cleaned “paper” mixture can then be made into different products depending upon what is added to it. Recycled paper can be processed to create some common paper products, like office paper, paper towels, or cardboard. However, there are some surprising uses for recycled paper pulp as well.

Recycled paper materials can be turned into egg cartons, building insulation, sheetrock, construction paper, paper plates, produce boxes, telephone directories, paperboard (like cereal boxes), new newspapers, paper towel rolls, disposable cups, roofing backing, and even kitty litter!

Where to Recycle Paper

Most recyclable paper products can simply be placed in your appropriate bin in your city’s curbside program. Recycling programs can vary depending on the area you live in, so be sure to check in with your local waste management company.

When it comes to cardboard and paper packaging materials, it is a great idea to reuse them yourself or see if a local business could use them for packaging material. Keeping the reuse and recycled use close to home is always best. You can also use shredded paper as packaging for sending gifts or products.

Newspapers and magazines can be used for art projects, or if the magazines are in good condition, check if a local shelter or nursing home would accept them before tossing them into the recycling bin. And remember newspaper is also compostable as well.

How to Recycle Paper Properly

Paper products put into recycling bins need to be clean and dry. Most curbside programs accept plastics and cans and paper all at once. This means the cans and bottles you place in must be completely empty so as not to contaminate the paper in the same bin. Things like yogurt containers or glass spaghetti jars need to be washed clean of food and dried before being placed into the recycling bin along with any paper or cardboard.

The most important thing to remember when recycling paper is that there cannot be any contamination. Paper that has contaminants such as oil, food, or chemicals should not be placed in the collection bin.

Since early 2018 China has stopped accepting any recycled paper bales with a contamination rate higher than 1% with most recycling facilities operating at roughly 4% contamination levels at best. This means that we need to do our part to try and get to that 1% rate.

Paper Recycling Bins

Placing clearly labeled paper recycling bins in convenient locations at home and work can greatly increase the level of recycling. A bright blue bin with a recycling symbol on it can encourage those around the office or home to stop tossing paper and recycle instead. Just make sure everyone knows the material must be clean and dry. 

Recycling Paper at School

Most schools have a recycling program and encourage their students to participate. Making it a part of day-to-day life for our younger generations will go a long way in creating lifelong environmentally conscious adults one day. A paper recycling bin should be in every teacher’s workroom for all those copying and paper-cutting projects, as well as in every classroom to encourage students to recycle whenever possible. Even crumpled or torn pages and scraps are easily recyclable. 

Eliminate Junk Mail

A major culprit in paper waste is the dreaded junk mail. All that junk mail, even with ink and glossy paper, is recyclable, so at a minimum, place it in your paper recycling bin. It is a good idea to get into the habit of tearing out any little plastic film or windowing on the envelopes. An even bigger help is to curb or stop entirely the endless flow of junk mail being sent to your mailbox day in and day out.

How to Stop Getting Junk Mail

Three easy steps to take can greatly reduce your junk mail:

  1. Call 1-888-5-OPT OUT or visit to opt-out of receiving unsolicited credit or insurance offers. 
  2. Contact the DMA (Data and Marketing Association) and participate in their DMA choice program to opt out of entire categories such as catalogs. 
  3. Stop smaller marketers. While DMA is the giant, you can also quickly and with a few clicks opt out of mailings from both Valupak and Redplum. If you want to still receive select coupons or promotions, you can also use which is a free alternative to DMAchoice, and select only what you find useful.

Recycling Shredded Paper

Generally speaking, shredded paper cannot be placed into your curbside recycling bin, so be sure to keep it separate from your other paper recyclables. The pieces are too small and the paper fibers are broken down too much to be processed on a large scale at recycling centers. The small shredded pieces can also easily get caught in the machinery and cause big problems.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just a little more complicated. If you have a very small amount from a home office, consider reusing it around the house as packing material or add it to your home compost. 

Shredded Paper Recycling Near Me

If you have a large amount, you may consider using a shredding service company that can collect and then create large bales of shredded material and transport it to a recycling center to be processed without issue.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does Recycling Paper Help the Environment?

Recycling paper can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are thought to contribute to climate change. There are obvious reasons like saving more trees, but there are even greater benefits to recycling as much paper as possible.

Recycling paper conserves energy and water and reduces pollution because it uses 70% less energy than creating new paper.

When we recycle paper we are also saving landfill space. Paper waste makes up roughly 28% of solid trash in landfills, so the more we can keep out the better.

How Many Trees Are Saved by Recycling Paper?

Each ton, or 2,000 lbs of paper that is recycled instead of trashed saves 17 mature trees, along with many other resources like water, energy, and landfill space.

Which Paper is Recyclable?

Most types of paper are recyclable, but there are a few exceptions of course and also a few that people mistake for not recyclable.

  • Scrap paper – Paper scraps can be recycled, along with crumpled and torn paper. The only exception is shredded paper.
  • Paper bags can be recycled as long as they are not soiled with food or grease.
  • Newspapers are both recyclable and compostable.
  • Magazines can be recycled, including ones with glossy pages.
  • Cereal and pasta boxes are able to be recycled normally after the plastic lining is removed.
  • Envelopes are recyclable, but it is best to remove any plastic window before recycling.
  • Coffee sleeves – While disposable coffee cups are not recyclable, the paper sleeves are.
  • Books can be recycled if you cannot find a place to accept as a donation.

Can You Recycle Paper With Ink on It?

Yes, paper with ink on it is still able to be recycled. Printed paper undergoes a de-inking process and is “washed” before becoming paper pulp again, so do not hesitate to recycle paper with print on it.

What Kinds of Paper Cannot Be Recycled?

  • Paper that is coated or lined generally cannot be recycled in a curbside program. Cardboard milk cartons for example are lined with a waxy film on the inside. This also includes frozen foods boxes which are usually lined as well. You will need to contact your local recycling program to ask about these type of products specifically.
  • Napkins and Tissues are also not recyclable, the fibers are too soft and usually they are soiled anyways, rendering them non-recyclable.
  • Contaminated paper – paper with food, grease, oil, or chemicals should be placed in the regular waste bin.
  • Toilet paper and paper towels cannot be recycled, but the cardboard rolls they are on can be recycled. This also includes the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper.
  • Receipts are coated with BPA and cannot be recycled. Whenever possible, opt out of unnecessary receipts or ask for an emailed receipt instead.
  • Printed photos are not recyclable.
  • Butcher paper and parchment paper are not recyclable due to the coating. These items can often be reused once or twice before tossing them out.
  • Wax paper cannot be recycled, and unless coated with vegetable wax instead of petroleum base it is not compostable either.
  • Disposable paper coffee cups are not recyclable due to a lining of plastic. The plastic lids are made from plastic #6 and not usually recyclable through curbside programs.
  • Pizza boxes are normally too soiled to be recycled, if the top half is clean you can separate and recycle that portion as you would any other cardboard material.