How many times can you recycle a piece of paper?

greenLogoI came across a great post on Indiana Public Media about recycling paper. While you may see the recycling logo on your paper’s packaging, the icon may be a little misleading as your paper’s fibers can only be recycled so many times before they are too weak to bind together.

A sheet of paper is made of fibers being laid into an interlocking pattern. These fibers started out as wood fibers suspended in water, a mixture known as pulp, and as the pulp dries, the fibers stick together.

The article I came across had a great analogy to help you visualize this process…
Imagine a bunch of cooked spaghetti. Instead of eating it, pour it out as a flat layer on a cookie sheet, then bake until it’s dry. The result, a big, flat mass of dried spaghetti, is like a fresh sheet of paper. They both hold together because of their dried-out interlocking fibers.”

During the recycling process, paper is again mixed with water and ground up in a machine, turning the paper back into pulp. This new pulp isn’t exactly the same as what we started with. All the blending and grinding has shortened and weakened the fibers. Recycled paper is weaker and easier to tear because the interlocking fibers aren’t as long or strong as when they were virgin fibers going through the paper mill for the first time.

The article continued on to state that a single sheet of paper can be recycled up to six times before the fibers become too weak to bond together. I’ve seen other articles site anywhere from four to seven times. It’s important to remember, however, that most paper containing post-consumer waste (PCW) is actually mixed in with virgin fibers to help the paper form that stronger bond.

If you’d really like to ensure that your paper is 100% recycled, make sure your recycle logo has a 100% near it to identify that only 100% of PCW fibers were used in the making of your paper.

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