By putting your paper into your recycling bin and not your trash, you help create a valuable resource that can be used over and over in new products. Recycling not only diverts the amount of solid waste from our landfills, it also helps save energy and water since manufacturing new products from recycled paper uses less of each.

How Much Paper is Recycled?

Bundles of used paper is prepared for recycling at the recycling center.
Bundles of used paper is prepared for recycling at the recycling center.

Before understanding the different uses for recycled paper, it’s important to understand how much of it we create and how that’s done. The amount of paper being recycled has reached record levels. According to the Paper Industry Association Council, “In 2008, 57.4 percent of the paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling. This impressive figure equals 340 pounds for each man, woman and child in America.”

Limits on Paper Recycling

A large spool of paper is produced from recycled material in a factorty
A large spool of paper is produced from recycled material in a factorty

Unlike glass and aluminum, two products which can be recycled indefinitely, paper has a finite life span. The fibers that make up paper products break each time they are recycled and turned into pulp again. Fibers can be recycled and reused about six or seven time before they become too short to use.

Office Grade Paper

An employee holds a recycling bin for paper in an office.
An employee holds a recycling bin for paper in an office.

Office-grade paper is generally the highest quality paper that enters the recycling stream. Because of its quality and sturdy fibers, this type of paper can often be recycled back into a similar grade of paper; however, paper made from recycled office paper will usually not have the same brightness unless it is heavily bleached. Using recycled office paper for colors other than white is ideal.

Newsprint

A woman recycles newspapers in her apartment.
A woman recycles newspapers in her apartment.

Newsprint is of lesser grade to start, so it cannot be recycled into a higher grade of paper. Often, newsprint is recycled back into a similar product. You can never recycle “up” the paper quality chain. That is, a lesser grade of paper can never be recycled into a better grade because of its ever-shortening fibers. At best, any grade of paper can be recycled into a similar grade. Often, it’s recycled into a lesser grade.

Cardboard

Broken down and bundled cardboard is ready for curbside pick-up.
Broken down and bundled cardboard is ready for curbside pick-up.

Cardboard, both corrugated and pressboard, constitutes one of the lowest grades of paper and is recycled back into similar products for packaging. Using recycled cardboard to manufacture new boxes and cartons is ideal since brightness is rarely an important factor, and imperfections will be less noticeable and more tolerable than in a better grade of paper.

Tissue

A large recycling receptacle on an urban sidewalk is filled with paper.
A large recycling receptacle on an urban sidewalk is filled with paper.

Finally, the shortest paper fibers can still be used to manufacture different types of tissue. Strength is not an issue, so the shortest and otherwise unusable fibers are ideal.

Other Uses for Recycled Paper

Egg cartons that have been produced from recycled paper in a facility.
Egg cartons that have been produced from recycled paper in a facility.

There are countless products that are made from recycled paper: coffee filters, diapers, egg cartons, shoe boxes, napkins, insulation, fiber board and even animal bedding.