Is Paper Recyclable? How to Recycle or Compost Different Types

A man looking through several stacks of white paper

Researchers anticipate that the global consumption of pulp and paper will double from 2010 to 2016. This will inevitably have a major impact on the environment, as it places more pressure on our planet’s already vulnerable forests. That’s why it’s essential for us all to do our part by using technologies to reduce waste and finding eco-friendly ways to dispose of our paper items. This includes envelopes, newspapers, magazines, printer paper, and more.

So, is recycling paper an option? The answer is more complex than it might seem on the surface. Thankfully, we’re here to break things down and simplify the topic as much as possible. In this guide, we’ll cover several topics, including:

We shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. First, let’s answer the key question - is paper recyclable? 


Can you recycle paper?

Several ripped up pieces of loose leaf that are different shapes

Yes, you can recycle most types of paper. Recyclable paper products include catalogs, magazines, printer paper, envelopes, newspapers, some egg cartons, and more. Items that can’t be recycled are typically soiled or have unusable fibers. This includes products like paper towels and toilet paper.

That’s just scratching the surface of what can or can’t be recycled when it comes to paper. Around the holidays, a commonly asked question is, is wrapping paper recyclable? Yes, gift wrap is usually safe to be recycled. Are you wondering - is cardboard recyclable? Then we recommend consulting our beginner-friendly guide on recycling cardboard. If you’re still unsure about various paper-based items, we encourage you to check out the section below.


 


 

What type of paper is recyclable and what isn’t?

Different types of paper in varying shapes and sizes

You can learn to recycle and compost cardboard with an informative guide, but this isn’t the case for every paper-based material. Some items are neither recyclable nor compostable, and it’s important to know the difference. Knowing what’s okay to recycle will prevent you from issues at your local recycling facility and from unintentionally spoiling the rest of the contents in your recycling bin.


Type of paper

Recyclable?

Compostable?

Printer paper

Newspaper

White office paper

Sticky notes

𝗫

Receipts

𝗫

𝗫

Paper towels

𝗫

𝗫


 

How to recycle paper properly

Four recycling bins in different bright colors

Most curbside recycling programs accept paper, though not all types of paper are accepted. If a paper item can be torn, like printer paper and newspapers, it’s most likely accepted by your local curbside program. The most important thing to know when recycling paper is that you can’t allow it to contaminate your recycling bin. Once recycling is contaminated, the items in the bin can’t be recycled anymore.

In the same way bottles need to be emptied of liquid and food packaging needs to be rinsed, paper needs to be dry and unsoiled. However, there are other factors that can make your paper less likely to be successfully recycled. Crumpled paper, for example, is less likely to be recycled. The same is true for shredded paper, as the fibers are shortened and can jam machinery. Recycled paper will typically be shredded at some point, but it needs to happen at a specific stage in the process and not before it arrives. 


Why paper recycling is important: 6 benefits

A handful of dirt with a small plant growing from it

Unsure as to why paper recycling is important? You might be surprised at just how major an impact recycling in general can have on our planet and society. To motivate you to get started, here are 6 standout benefits of paper recycling.

  1. Reduces greenhouse gas emissions: The process of creating paper products from recycled paper results in less methane emissions than creating entirely new paper. This helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.
  2. Creates jobs: The recycling industry creates over 500,000 jobs in the U.S. annually. This includes work for mechanics, drivers, sorters, facility managers, and more.
  3. Conserve natural resources: By recycling paper, you’re reducing the number of trees that need to be cut down to gather more resources to create new paper pulp. Americans have the potential to save millions of trees by simply recycling a small amount of the paper they use. 
  4. Lowers energy consumption: Recycling paper results in less water and energy consumption than creating new paper does. 
  5. Saves landfill space: Reducing the amount of paper going into landfills means there’s more space for other garbage that can’t be recycled. Paper may not seem like it’d take much room, but each ton of recycled paper can save three cubic yards of landfill space.
  6. Cut air pollution: Using recycled paper to create new products allow manufacturers to cut their air pollution by a significant margin. 

An alternative to recycling: how to compost paper at home

A lomi kitchen composter filled with cut-up vegetables

As mentioned above, there are some cases in which paper can’t be recycled. The primary reason for this is that it has gotten wet or been contaminated in some way. The good news is - wet and soiled paper can be composted instead. If you have a garden or simply don’t feel like recycling, you can compost your dry or shredded paper as well!

There are various ways you can go about composting your paper. Items like newspapers can simply be added to your outdoor compost pile. However, the easiest and fastest way to get your paper items turned into dirt is with an electric composter. The best kitchen composters use heat, abrasion, and oxygen to break down things like food scraps. Electric composters like Lomi are also capable of breaking down non-food items like paper. That said, you should ensure a non-food item is Lomi approved before placing it inside.  

 

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6 FAQs about paper recycling

Have more questions about how paper is recycled? We’re here to help. Here are 6 frequently asked questions about paper waste, how to recycle your paper properly, when to compost your paper, and much more.  


1. How much paper is recycled every year?

Someone with a handful of shredded white paper

Over 95 million metric tonnes of paper are collected annually around the world. This recovered paper is used to create paperboard and recycled paper products. Though certain products like paper towel, toilet paper, and receipts can’t be recycled, countless products like wrapping paper and newspaper can.


2. How efficient is paper recycling?

A close up of a dark blue recycling bin

Paper recycling is highly efficient in comparison to making new paper. Recycling causes significantly less air and water pollution than creating paper items with new pulp. Paper can only be recycled about seven times before its fibers become too weak but can be used to create multiple items in the interim.

To get more specific, recycling causes 74 percent less air pollution and 35 percent less water pollution than the process to make new paper. Recycling paper is also efficient because it reduces the amount of waste taking up space in landfills.


3. How is paper recycled?

Large amounts of shredded paper in a recycling facility

Paper is recycled at recycling centers and paper mills. The process begins with the paper being sorted and then shred into small pieces. Once water and chemicals have been mixed in, the pile is heated so that it’s broken down into fibers. The resultant solution, called pulp, is the material used to create paper.

Of course, that’s just the beginning of the multi-step paper recycling process. This pulp then passes through several screens and undergoes a process to remove larger contaminants. This includes things like paper clips, tape, and staples. The pulp then enters a floatation tank where chemicals remove ink to ensure the finished paper is entirely white. Whitening agents like hydrogen peroxide may also be used. Once the pulp has been bleached, it enters the final stage where it’s combined with pulp made from new materials and is transported over to a paper machine. 


4. Do you need to remove staples and paper clips?

A small collection of white and yellow paper clips

Yes, you should remove staples and paper clips before recycling your paper. That said, most paper mills and recycling centers are equipped to handle having a few of these items in the paper stream. Still, taking the time to remove them is courteous and good for the overall recycling process.

Trying to remove staples from piles of paper can be difficult. That’s why you should try one of two removal methods instead. The first is to use a staple remover, which is included with many staples or can be purchased separately. If you don’t own a staple remover, you can use diagonal pliers to remove them. This method is typically reserved for staples stuck in wood, but they can also be used on paper.


5. Is wet paper recyclable?

A cup of tea or coffee spilled onto white paper

Wet paper is not recyclable for primarily two reasons. The first is that its fibers are shorter, which makes it more difficult to turn into a new product. The second is that wet paper can potentially contaminate the other recycling in your bin. This is especially true for food-soiled paper.

Though recycling is not an option for wet paper items - composting is. There are several different composting methods you can use to dispose of wet paper. If you’d like to learn more about how to compost at home, check out our helpful guide. 


 


 

6. Should you compost or recycle paper?

A person shoveling finished compost into a flower pot

When disposing of paper, both composting and recycling are valid choices. That said, only dry paper should be recycled. Dry paper can be recycled and turned into something new, but this isn’t the case for wet or soiled paper. This paper should be composted, as it could otherwise spoil a batch of recycling.

Not sure what counts as soiled paper? Examples include homework or newspapers that have had food or drinks spilled on them. Thankfully, composting saves these items from going to waste. With a well-reviewed composter like Lomi, you can easily turn soiled paper into nutrient-rich dirt.


Now that you know how to recycle and compost different paper items, you can reduce your paper waste significantly. This is a fantastic way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of waste going into landfills. If you have more questions about recycling and composting, you’ll find plenty of helpful guides on our website. We discuss the recyclability of various products, including pizza boxes and many other household staples.


Written by: E Sawden