February 20, 2019
Is recycling paper bad for the environment?
As the number of ethical consumers and businesses grow,due to the increased awareness of environmental issues and the importance tochange the way we produce our products, switching to paper made with a highrecycled-fibre content is becoming increasingly popular.
Why? Because we believe it is the most responsible and environmentally friendly thing to do. But is it really better for the environment?
We know that on average, the production of virgin fibre paper, followed by incineration uses twice as much energy than it takes to produce recycled paper and that by recycling paper we are reducing the demand for trees to be cut down. But how about the chemicals used to bleach the recycled content or the fuel used during the transportation process?
I will be looking into the benefits and disadvantages of the whole process. Exposing the truth about recycling paper, you can make your own decision, after reading.
The negative effects of recycling paper
Demand for trees
We talk about reducing the demand for cutting down trees, as a benefit, but thousands of trees are grown on paper farms, for the purpose of creating paper. Recycling paper reduces the demand for trees, so potentially fewer will be planted on paper farms.
A whole range of chemicals are used to remove inks from the paper during the recycling process, this includes the use of chlorine and other detergents. Petroleum based inks also contain a variety of heavy metals and other compounds that require strong solvents to remove them.
The waste (including the chemicals, metals and small fibres) then makes its way into our water streams, or more often it is sent to our landfills.
Around the world a high portion of paper that is recycled is deported to countries such as China or other Asian countries, and then reimported back as recycled paper. Using a lot of energy throughout the transportation process.
The benefits of recycling paper
Demand for trees
Although clearcutting is the most common and economically profitable method of logging, there are many more impacts than simply the loss of trees. These include habitat loss, soil erosion, flooding, negative impacts on scenery and a number of others.
Whilst many tree farms replant these trees, the replanting often favors a single desirable crop for future harvest, rather than a natural diversity of trees that provide habitats for wildlife.
However, paper can be recycled up to 4-5 times before the fibres become too weak for use and for every ton of paper we recycle, we can save up to 17 trees.
Other than saving up to 17 trees, we can save 380 gallons of oil, 3 cubic metres of landfill space, 4000 kw of energy and 26,500 l of water per ton of paper recycled.
On average, the production of virgin fibre paper, followed by incineration also uses twice as much energy than it takes to produce recycled paper.
Recycling paper causes 74% less air pollution than making new paper. This is because when paper decomposes in the ground, it produces methane, which is 25 times more harmful to the environment than CO2. By recycling the paper instead, we can avoid these gases being produced.
Paper needs to go through the deinking process before it can be reused. This process varies between each mill/manufacturer. At the Greenfield mill, in France recycled pulp undergoes 3 separate cleaning loops specially designed to very effectively de-ink the paper without the use of chlorine.
There is also a process called Enzymatic deinking – This method of deinking uses industrial or food grade enzymes in conjunction with flotation deinking to aid in the removal of inks in recycling mills. This more efficient removal of ink, increases fibre yield and increases paper brightness. The enzymatic deinking process also helps mills reduce their bleach usage.
There are also a variety of inks now available such as soy based, vegetable based and water based which are less harsh, and easier to remove.
A mixture of the waste water sludge that results from treating paper, and de-inking sludge inevitably produced during the process of manufacturing recycled paper. Neither is toxic, but the large volumes generated mean that they require special treatment.
100% of the sludge produced by Arjo Wiggins (our main supplier) is put to agricultural use such as composting and spreading, or used as a raw material to produce cement and bricks.
Did you know?
“When heated to a high temperature, the cellulose fibres contained in paper mill sludge* burn and improve the porosity of bricks. A brick produced in this way will have better soundproofing and insulation qualities than a traditional brick.”
Some other mills use the waste/sludge to generate part of their energy consumption with a gasification plant. By gasifying the available waste materials the steam created can then be used to create the mills own energy.
Not only does this enable the mill to produce some of its own energy but it also eliminates the need for lorries to collect and dispose of the waste, in turn saving other energy and lowering the carbon footprint.
The main paper manufacturer we use, Argo Wiggins (one of the leading paper manufacturers in the world) recovers paper from waste recycling points and carries out its industrial recycling within close proximity of its mills, in order to cut down on transport-related carbon emissions. 50% of the input at the Greenfield mill, in France, comes from within a 100-km-wide vicinity.
There are also 2 main mills in the UK, Chartham Mill, Kent and Stoneywood Mill, Aberdeen.
This helps to vastly reduce the carbon footprint of the paper, by limiting the amount of energy used on transporting/shipping the paper.
“Conventional paper-manufacturing processes require around 540 m³ of water to produce one ton of paper, most of which is a result of manufacturing virgin pulp. By re-using fibres a number of times, manufacturing recycled paper consumes around 20 m³ per ton.”
Why we choose to use recycled paper
In our opinion, the benefits for recycling paper significantly outweigh any negative effects. Especially considering our choice of paper manufacturers, that follow the same ethical values as us.
There may be a few negatives for recycling paper, mainly with the chemicals used to bleach the paper and the transportation involved. However, there are many new developments and alternatives that can now be used that counteract these. If you take the time to find the right supplier you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
One of the main points learnt from this research must be the importance of making sure you choose your suppliers carefully. Choosing local suppliers helps to decrease the carbon footprint of the paper you use.
Checking to make sure the supplier you use is FSC certified to ensure any virgin fibres have come from a sustainable source is also very important.
Do you check where the materials you use are manufactured or supplied from?