Benefits of recycling paper
A circular economy is high on the agenda for many companies and organizations today. It is an important element in our green transition globally and will be a strong tool to utilize in an environmentally sustainable world. Unfortunately, we are still not in a place where we have learned how to reuse or recycle all of our materials and resources and implement them into a circular economy. The list, however, keeps getting longer with materials and processes that enable it.
Before anything else, let’s dive into circular economy as a concept and get a sense of what it entails.
A circular Economy supports a fundamental system change by replacing the ‘end-of-life’ notion for products with a restorative and regenerative business model shifting towards the use of renewable energy, eliminating waste, as well as banning the use of toxic chemicals. The aim is to accomplish sustainable development, while simultaneously creating environmental quality, economic prosperity, and social equity, benefitting current and future generations, giving a more holistic view on business and production.
Paper as a circular economy
A prime example of a circular economy is paper. It remains the furthest recycled product in Europe, showing incredible environmental benefits. Of course, quality is a major point of interest – namely, how can we ensure high quality while still limiting the environmental footprint of paper production? Let’s explore the world of paper recycling together.
In Europe, there was a 72% recycling rate of paper in 2019 and the aim keeps being set higher and higher each year (source: European Paper Recycling Council). On average paper can be recycled up to 5 times, which sounds really high, but if you consider the lifespan of paper it might not quite justify the amount of resources consumed for its production.
Every time paper gets recycled the fibers become shorter and reduce the standard of the paper. In that connection, the demand for high-quality recycled paper relies on the increasing use of chemical additives and fillers which create by-products posing challenges for the environment and the economy. Research constantly seeks to optimize the treatment process and find out innovative ways to approach recycling of paper; changing the by-products in order to have less impact on the environment and prolong the lifespan of the product.
Paper is primarily wood/plant-based containing a high amount of cellulosic biomass, which is needed in a range of different industries and productions. Cellulose is an abundant natural polymer consisting of crystalline and amorphous areas (2011, Moon RJ, Martini A, Nairn J, et al). In the last few years, there has been a string of research breakthroughs in the production of cellulose nanofibers (CNF) and cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) proposing their use in high added value applications (2018, C. Adu, M. Jolly, V. K. Thakur). Wastepaper has been used for extraction of CNC/CNF, preparation of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), carboxymethyl cellulose, and polymer composite matrix. “Meanwhile, materials prepared from the synthesis of wastepaper have also been explored for producing high-performance electronic components such as supercapacitors” (2018, C. Adu, M. Jolly, V. K. Thakur).
The picture that is being painted here, shows that the process of recycling paper has a lot of benefits and its by-products being applied for other products and productions, emphasizing paper’s strong circular economy status. Recycling paper does actually make sense and the research into the area of applying the by-products of the recycling process is extensive and expanding every day.
Benefits of paper recycling
So, we can see recycling paper makes a ton of sense. It conserves natural resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and keeps landfill space free for other types of materials that we are not able to recycle.
|Did you know: recycling one ton of paper can save 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 380 gallons of oil, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, and 4,000 kW of energy. This equals the average of the power for an average home for six months.|
Of course, paper can’t be recycled forever. After approximately 5 times, the material has to be discarded. But where we are right now with recycling paper, and as a circular economy, is phenomenal. We can keep the quality of the paper incredibly high for a long time, together with applying the bi-products from the recycling process to other manufacturing processes, and saving a ton of resources while we’re at it. Who knows, maybe someday very soon we’ll reach a complete circular economy in all our productions everywhere. Until then, remember to recycle your paper, the benefits are countless.