How does paper recycling work?

Paper is not garbage, but a valuable resource that can be recycled. In order to obtain new paper from old boxes, newspapers, magazines and Co., several preparation processes are necessary.

That may sound expensive, but the ecological balance clearly speaks for the recycling process. Because overall, it is easier and more resource-efficient to extract the cellulose pulp from waste paper than from wood. Fewer chemicals, less energy and less water are required for the production.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, the production of one kilogram of virgin fiber paper consumes 50 liters of water and five kilowatt hours of electricity. For comparison: For one kilogram of recycled paper, only 15 liters of water and two kilowatt hours of electricity are required.

Sort, shred, clean

After the waste paper has been collected from the containers and taken to the recycling plant, the processing process begins.

  • First, the waste paper is recorded and sorted precisely , for example by color. There are around 3,000 types of paper that are divided into 65 types of waste paper.
  • Large sieves then filter out foreign objects such as paper clips and staples, plastic particles and the like.
  • The paper is then mechanically shredded and soaked in water to dissolve it in its fibers.
  • Thereupon further foreign substances are washed out .
  • The so-called deinking process is now used for light-colored paper: Among other things, sodium hydroxide solution and surfactants remove the printing inks from the paper , which are removed together with the foam.
  • This is followed by a bleaching process with oxygen or hydrogen peroxide for light papers.
  • The mass is enriched with other fillers and additives , including fresh fibers.
  • Finally, the paper pulp is pressed smooth with rollers , dried and rolled up to new paper.

But the recycling of waste paper is also finite, because paper fibers become shorter with each recycling. This means that the proportion of additives and fresh fibers has to be increased a little each time, especially if you want to produce recyclable paper that is easy to print. For example, wood chips from sawmills or china clay are suitable for this.

Even better than recycling: save paper

Even if recycled paper is the more sustainable solution compared to virgin fiber paper, there is still a better alternative. And that means: use paper sparingly. Because Germany is exemplary in terms of paper recycling – there is definitely still room for improvement in terms of consumption .

Because according to the WWF, Germany uses as much paper as the continents Africa and South America combined. And although digitization is advancing, annual per capita consumption in this country is continuously increasing. The average is around 250 kilograms, which results in a consumption of around 685 grams per day, which is around 137 pages of A4 paper. For comparison: The global average is only 57 kilograms – only China, the USA and Japan are still ahead of Germany in terms of consumption.

Paper recycling: a complex but sensible process

  • Paper recycling uses less energy, water and chemicals than the production of pure virgin fiber paper.
  • The preparation process comprises several stages.
  • Paper fibers survive five to six recycling processes.
  • Economical consumption is still better than paper recycling.