It will come as no surprise to learn that paper is one of the most widely recycled materials in the UK.
After all, as a nation we use 12.5 million tonnes of paper each year, and increasing numbers of homes and businesses are taking steps to ethically dispose of as much waste paper as possible.
But once you’ve dropped your paper off at your local recycling centre, or once it’s been recycled as part of our paper and cardboard recycling service, what happens next?
Let’s take a look at just how paper is recycled.
Of course, the process for recycling paper is different to the process for recycling say, glass or plastic. So before anything else happens, we need to make sure that all the different types of recyclables are separated.
If you’re using our dedicated paper recycling service, then it’s highly likely that the paper will already be free from glass and other materials. Similarly, many local councils request that you keep your paper separate from your other household waste. They might even provide you with a bag specifically designed for waste paper.
If this is the case, then this step for recycled paper can be skipped. But if the paper is mixed with all manner of glass and plastic, then before anything else happens, it will have to be separated.
There are numerous ways of achieving this. With smaller loads, it can be done by hand. However, if there’s an entire skip or lorry-load to process, then magnets can be used to remove metal, and blasts of air can be used to separate the lighter paper from the heavier glass and plastic.
Even if the paper isn’t mixed with other recyclables, the chances are that the load of waste paper destined for recycling will include a bit of card and cardboard, as well as varying grades, thicknesses, and textures of paper.
These will all have to be separated before any actual recycling can take place.
Waste paper is usually full of all sorts of things that will have to be removed before it can be recycled, including plastic film, staples, and glue. Also, it will invariably be covered in ink. This too will have to go.
The paper is mixed with soapy water and various chemicals in a large container to create a slurry.
The slurry is chopped up and heated, which breaks it down into strands of an organic plant material called cellulose.
This is strained through various screens to remove any lingering glue or plastic.
The deinking stage is one of the more complicated processes. There are a number of ways to do it.
Flotation deinking, for example, includes adding the pulp to a flotation cell that’s heated to around 45-55°C. Air is blown into the pulp suspension, which causes the ink to rise to the surface, forming a thick froth that can be skimmed.
There’s also wash deinking, which involves making use of dispersants to wash out the printing ink. It’s even possible to make use of industrial grade enzymes in conjunction with the flotation deinking system.
Having been deinked, the pulp will then be washed.
Bleaching is only really applied if white paper is desired. But by applying other chemicals you can create almost any paper product. For example, if the recycled paper is to become card, a thickening agent can be applied.
Large rollers are used to spread the paper into thin sheets. These are left to dry. Then, once they’re dry, they’re rolled up for ease of storage and transport.
These paper rolls can then be cut to size, ready to be used for whatever new purpose.
The paper recycling process creates a by-product known as sludge. This is the unusable material that’s leftover once all the ink, plastics, glue, and short fibres have been removed.
Fortunately, there are ways to dispose of this sludge ethically. It can be burned to create the energy necessary to power the recycling plant, or it can be used by local farmers as fertiliser.
If you’ve got any questions about recycled paper, then take a look at our waste management service.