Paper is an organic material that is primarily made from the cellulose fibers of virgin wood from trees which is used to obtain pulp. This cellulose pulp can be obtained from virgin wood or also from recycled paper.
The primary woods used to manufacture said cellulose pulp are called “pulpable woods,” mostly softwood trees such as spruce, pine, fir or larch, although hardwood from fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus or birch is also used, or eucalyptus and pine in Spain.
Once the cellulose pulp or paper pulp is obtained, it goes through several mechanical processes, the fibers are separated– they’re joined by a kind of glue called “lignin”–mixed with water and then dried to obtain the paper reel. A bleaching process is usually applied to paper.
Paper production accounts for approximately 35% of tree felling around the world.
Cardboard is made up of several layers of paper, which are superposed and glued from virgin material or recycled paper. Cardboard is thicker, harder and more resistant than paper. Most cardboard boxes are made using a corrugated cardboard structure with smooth layers and corrugated layers on the inside, improving mechanical characteristics and increasing resistance during transport and storage. Pinewood is the raw material most used in cardboard production.
35% of trees felled are destined for paper manufacturing
Throughout history, many different writing supports were used before the discovery of cellulose paper. In ancient Egypt, in 2000 BC, papyrus was used. In China, in the year 105, the first paper was produced from scrap silk, rice or hemp. In Europe, in the Middle Ages, scrolls were made from goat skins or tanned ram hides, and later, in the fourteenth century, paper was made out of cotton. The production of paper using cellulose didn’t come about until the eighteenth century, with the implementation of the Kraft process.
The writing support has evolved to such a point that, nowadays, we have digital and media supports that allow us to read and write on many different devices such as e-readers, computers, tablets or smartphones.
Around 12% of household and commercial waste is paper and cardboard.
In 2012, in Catalonia,a total of 318,210 tons of paper-cardboard were recycled (collected separately into containers), in Spain the figure was 1,085,574 tons. Recycling paper has his benefits.
It is estimated that, in 2012, recycling (recovery, which includes paper recovered in Ecoparks) made up 46% of the paper-cardboard (of household sand businesses) generated in Catalonia. There is no verified data from Spain or Europe, as the data includes paper recycled by industries. But there is still a 64% that ends in landfill or incineration.
46% of the paper produced is recycled. Recycling can be repeated up to 6 times
Unlike the infinite recycling of glass, or metal, paper can be recycled, on average, about 6 times. This is because its pulp fibers become cut and frayed and there comes a time when they are so small that they lose their consistency and can no longer be recycled. For this reason, every time paper is made, virgin fiber must be added to ensure good quality. However, the only difference between recycled and virgin fiber is that each one is in a different phase of its life.
For responsible paper consumption, it’s advisable to reuse it on both sides and buy recycled paper (non-chlorinated). If this isn’t possible, at least make sure that it carries a certification proving that it’s the result of controlled tree felling which is managed sustainably, such as the popular NGO FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification.
Want to know more?
i The book Stop garbage. The truth about recycling, Alex Pascual, February 2019
►Video: Paper recycling process (ENG)
► Paper manufacturing process (CAST)
i Greenpeace complaint about excessive plantations of Eucalyptus in China (ENG)
i How to reduce consumption and optimize the use and recycling of paper (CAST)
i Guide of good practices for the recycling of cardboard and paper by the Generalitat de Catalunya (CAT)
i More information about the FSC certificate (ENG)
. Mjnsbzgkxartin, Sam (2004). Paper Chase. Ecology Communications, Inc.. Retrieved 2007-09-2
. “The paper, the main actor of our history,” Aspapel
.My compilation from different studies: “Pesa la brossa” 2014. Study for the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and General Program of Prevention and Waste Management of Catalonia 2013-2020. According to the Agència de Residus de Catalunya 2014, the data are Organic 37%, paper, and cardboard 12%, glass 8%, plastics and metals 12%. “La gestió dels residus i el seu impacte en el canviclimàtic.” Statistics 2014
. Generalitat de Catalunya Statistics http://www.estadistiques.arc.cat
. Annual report 2013 Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente, Spanish Government.
. General prevention and waste management Program in Catalonia 2013-2020
. Source Aspapel, interview inBLOG El País “How many times could be recycled?”
Foto portada by Moyan Brenn. Foto 1 cartón by Toshihiro Oimatsu. Foto 2 bolsa by avrorra