Paper recycling

Paper is the most recycled material in the world. We recycle more paper than plastic, glass and aluminum combined. In some countries, where recycling is still not very wide-spread, people still recycle paper. Recycling 1 kilogram of white (printing or copier) paper saves slightly more than 2 kilograms of wood. At the same time recycling 1 kg of gray paper (i.e. paper used for printing newspapers) saves about 1 kg of wood. On many sources you can find a relation of kilograms of recycled paper with the amount of saved trees. This comparison is, however, rather meaningful. Tree sizes vary significantly, therefore, such a comparison can result in very different outcomes. It has, however, been estimated that recycling half of the paper currently used by humanity, would save around 81,000 km² of forestland [1].

Paper recycling

What can recycled paper turn into?

Have you ever heard the following phrase: “Paper has seven generations”? This phrase refers to the amount of times it can be recycled. The quality of paper is defined by the length of its fibers. The longer the fibers – the higher the quality (or grade). Usually, the more times the paper has undergone the recycling procedure – the shorter its fibers. Therefore, a general “rule of thumb” is: the grayer the paper – the more recycling cycles it has been through. For example, newspapers and paper-towels represent the lower grades, since they usually make use of recycled paper. White paper for the printers is, on the other hand, usually of the highest quality – not yet recycled at all. After five to seven recycling cycles, the fibers become too short to make new paper and addition of new fibers is necessary to create paper.

One of the most popular usages of recycled paper is pulp or molded fiber packaging. However, various other usages of scrap or recycled paper exist. Among them the previously mentioned newspapers and paper towels, as well as egg cartons or grocery bags.

Recycling procedure.

The process of paper recycling consists of several stages.

  1. The first stage is paper collection. The biggest amount comes in a form of used paper from the consumers. However, paper trimmings from the manufactures also end up in the recycling process. Furthermore, some paper is discarded after it left the production site  but before it reaches the customer. That paper usually ends up collected for recycling as well.
  2. The second stage is sorting the paper according to its grade. As discussed above, the length of the fibers defines the grade of the paper.
  3. After sorting comes storing in the recycling facility or “recycling mill”.
  4. Consequently, some chemicals are added to the paper to remove the leftover admixtures. These admixtures can include aluminum, ink and other contaminants.
  5. Then special machines cut the paper into small pieces and heat these pieces up. This breaks paper down further into fibers. The resulting mixture has the name of pulp, or slurry. Dedicated screens then remove any impurities that may still be in the mixture. Then the mixture is cleaned, de-inked, bleached, and more water is added to it.

 

 

 

[1] EarthWorks Group. 1990. “The Recycler’s Handbook”. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press

Types of plastic: part 2

In Part 1 of Types of plastic you can find information about the three most used types – PET, HDPE and PVC. The provided information includes the most common uses, the dangers, ways to recycle and, finally, our advice on whether it is safe to use. This post will give similar information on four other relatively wide-spread plastic types.

plastic trash

4. LDPE -Low Density Polyethylene

LDPE plastic

Similar to HDPE (and also belonging to polyethylene family), this type of plastic is considered one of the safer ones. You can find LDPE in various bags – grocery and garbage bags, frozen food or dry cleaning.  Coatings for paper milk cartons and hot & cold beverage cups also contain LDPE rather often. Among the more rare uses are wire and cable covering.

As mentioned above, LDPE is one of the safer plastics, due to the fact that it is relatively stable. However, some studies demonstrated a possibility of leaching estrogenic chemicals (also similar to HDPE). The chances of chemical release increase under the influence of ultraviolet radiation – a.k.a. sunlight.

Recycling of this plastic is rather rare as well, due to the fact that the procedure is expensive and inefficient.

Conclusion: relatively safe.

5. PP – Polypropylene

polypropylene plastic

Polypropylene has similar applications as polyethylenes – mainly food packaging. This plastic is considered to be more heat resistant, therefore, it is used to pack warm food. like takeout meals. Among other uses of PP are yoghurt containers and medication packs.

Due to the high heat resistance PP is unlikely to leach chemicals. Despite that common consideration, at least one study has demonstrated the opposite. The study considered PP in the labware for scientific experiments. Therefore, it is not exactly clear what the release probability is from your everyday yoghurt container.

Polypropylene is often mixed with other resins, therefore, it is difficult to separate and recycle it. Recycling rates are thus very low.

Conclusion: relatively safe. Only one study showed leaching of chemicals, and that only when used in scientific experiments.

6. PS – Polystyrene

PS - Polystyrene - plastic

Another popular name of polystyrene is Styrofoam. Among the widespread uses are food containers and egg cartons, as well as disposable cups and bowls. Bike helmets and disposable cutlery are among the more rare uses, alongside with house smoke detectors and dvd cases.

Polystyrene is known to leach styrene, which is a human carcinogen. Moreover, it can damage your brain and nervous system. These effects can take place when PS is part of a food container composition. The styrene release becomes more pronounced when PS contacts warm foods, therefore, take-away food packages or coffee-mugs are the worst! Despite that fact polystyrene is often used for these applications exactly. If we still haven’t convinced you, note that styrene is also present in second-hand cigarette smoke.

Recycling rate of PS is very low due to the fact that it is difficult to recycle.

Conclusion: Better to avoid it altogether.

7. Other

Image result for plastic 7 other

This category does not refer to any plastic in particular. Sometimes it stands for a mix of previously discussed plastics, sometimes – for other compounds, including bioplastics. Very often PC – Polycarbonate is marked with 7, however, that is not exactly correct, since PC is just one example. Without going into too much detail we can advise you to avoid PC, since it leaches bisphenol A (BPA).

Types of plastic: part 1

In our previous post you can find information about the horrifying amounts of plastic waste worldwide. You can also read about the possible recycling solutions, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. This post will give you more information about the various types of plastic, their labeling and the possible recycling solutions.

1. PET (sometimes PETE) – Polyethylene terephthalate.

Polyethylene terephthalate plastic

PET is probably the most widespread type of plastic nowadays. It is very popular in food packaging. Soft drinks, mouthwash, ketchup and salad dressing containers – most of these are generally packed in plastic. The popularity of PET as a packaging material comes from its extraordinary ability to create a barrier between gas and liquid. Thus, PET represents a perfect package for liquid products.

The main danger of using PET bottles and containers is that it can leach antimony – a toxic metal used during its production. Despite the fact that PET is considered safe, various circumstances can lead to antimony release into the liquid. Among those circumstances are higher temperatures, and even storing liquid in a PET bottle for a significant amount of time. Basically, the longer liquid remains in a plastic PET container – the higher the chances of antimony release.

Being the most popular type of plastic PET is also the one with relatively high recycling rates. In many European countries special PET-containers are located next to the supermarkets for the separate waste collection of this type of plastic. However, what actually happens to PET is not technically “recycling”, it is “downcycling”. “Downcycling” means that the quality of the recycled material is lower than that of the original product. Textile industry is using “downcycled” PET, for example, for producing fleece clothing. This means, however, that with each recycling procedure the quality constantly decreases until the material eventually becomes landfill waste.

Conclusion: try to use as little PET as possible, buy a refill water bottle and use clothes from natural materials – cotton or wool.

2. HDPE – High Density Polyethylene

HDPE plastic

Another one of the popular polyethylene family. Finds its uses in food packaging – mainly for milk, juice and yoghurt. Moreover, detergents and shampoos often find themselves in HDPE-bottles. Grocery and garbage bags, single-use dishes are also often made out of this type of plastic.

HDPE is a safer plastic than, for example, PET, as it is more stable, and therefore, less prone to releasing chemicals into the liquids it contains. However, some studies have demonstrated that it can leach estrogenic chemicals when exposed to UV light.

Recycled HDPE is used for packaging of non-food items like shampoos and detergents, as well as for creating plastic furniture and floor tiles.

Conclusion: relatively safe.

3. PVC – polyvinyl chloride

Image result for PVC plastic

The second most widespread plastic in the world (after polyethylene of course).  The whole life-cycle of PVC is toxic, from production to use and disposal. Therefore, the usage of this plastic is continuously decreasing over the years. However, you can still find it  in various plastic toys, table cloths, even meat wrappings or cooking oils.

PVC is probably the most toxic plastic still widely in use for producing consumer products. It contains multiple toxic chemicals, including  bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, lead, dioxins, mercury, and cadmium. It is also a dangerous substance to work with at production stage, which puts manufacturing workers at risk.

If all that was not enough, recycling rate for PVC is also very low, due to the difficulty of the process.

Conclusion: Very environmentally unfriendly, unsustainable and can be very toxic. We recommend to avoid this one completely.

Plastic recycling

Plastic Waste

Plastic materials are one of the most used materials in Europe. It is the most popular form of food-packaging worldwide. Apart from that obvious role, areas like agriculture, construction or car industry – all make use of some plastics. As a result of this extensive usage, in 2003 the Netherlands alone produced 1,2 million tons of plastic waste. That is a very big amount for a country with relatively small population – 17 million people – imagine the impact of Germany or the United States!

The biggest amount of plastic waste – approximately 45% – consists of household waste. That number is so high due to the fact that almost every food item purchased in a supermarket comes in a plastic package. Meat packages, cheese slices, butter packs, ready-made dishes – all are packed with ridiculous amounts of plastic. My favorite example is a typical lunch salad from a supermarket. Not only the whole package is plastic, but almost every ingredient has a separate compartment made of this non-biodegradable material!

Plastic package

Soft drink bottles, and packages like shampoos or shower gels form another enormous source of plastic waste worldwide. In many countries, where tap water is not safe to drink, this problem is even more urgent. As a result of bad quality of tap water people have to purchase big bottles of drinking water almost every day. Unfortunately, those countries are also the ones with very poor recycling policies.

Recycling

The worst of it all – only about 5% of all the plastic waste is being recycled. Most of it ends up in huge land damps, or even worse, in the world’s ocean. There have been horrifying predictions of more plastic than fish in the ocean as soon as 2050. Plastic waste in the ocean has very sad consequences, which most people never even think about. Multiple reports show show large fish and turtles suffocating on carelessly thrown away plastic bags and packages. Even if such a package eventually breaks down in the sea water, it releases dangerous chemicals in the process. If we don’t think about the environment, we should at least think about ourselves. These chemicals are eventually consumed by various fish and may end up in the human food chain.

Buying less products with a one-time use packaging and, most of all, recycling, are the answers to those problems.

Plastic recycling practices

There are three most-popular recycling practices for plastic.

  • The first one consists of simply burning it down to produce energy. This is where most of the used plastic ends up. The method is, however, widely criticized due to the fact that the obtained energies are not compensating for the energies required for new plastic production. Moreover, the process results in releasing dangerous gases to the atmosphere.
  • A relatively new and still rare recycling procedure includes converting plastics into fuels and carbons.
  • Finally, a practice that should be way more wide-spread than it currently is – reusing plastics! It’s the most environmentally-friendly way of recycling plastics. The waste is collected, subsequently melted and further re-used to create new items – from single-use cutlery to children’s toys.

The bottom line is – everyone can contribute to a more sustainable society. Start today with buying a reusable water bottle and separating your waste!

 

If you would like to read more about the types of plastic and their utilization procedures, please check out this post.