Office Paper: When In Doubt, Don’t “Toss It Out”

Does your messy office need a good cleaning? With nearly half of all high-quality office paper (bond paper) going in the trash each year, we’re hoping most of you will choose the recycling bin for your cleanup chores.

But even in offices that have paper-recycling programs, many professionals remain puzzled. Can I recycle magazines? Two-pocket folders? Old brochures? What about shredded paper?

As a rule, office-dwellers shouldn’t hold back when it comes to recycling. Most paper-based office products can be recycled, but exceptions may depend on what type of collection and processing system your recycling provider uses.

Single stream collection programs allow participants to put all recyclable materials – not just paper products, but also cans and bottles – into a single receptacle. This is a relatively new trend in recycling, and it makes it much easier for office workers to recycle everything, every day. But since this type of collection requires the processing facility to sort all discarded materials properly (including different grades of paper), you must make sure your recycling provider supports single stream collection.

Sorted stream collection requires on-site sorting based on the type of paper being recycled, or as “mixed paper” separated from other recyclable materials. This process allows for better control over the quality of recovered material, and results in lower recycling costs for your business (because it saves money for the processor). As paper recyclers continue to develop new technologies for identifying, handling and separating paper grades, more companies will be moving to a single-stream model in the future.

So, how do you know which “paper grades” are recyclable? Here is a brief description of the five basic paper-grade categories:

Mixed paper
This is a catchall term for much of the office paper that gets recycled. Mixed paper includes colored paper, discarded mail, telephone books, paperboard, magazines, catalogs and (occasionally) shredded paper. Mills use mixed paper to produce paperboard and tissue, as a secondary fiber in the production of new paper, or as a raw material in non-paper products such as chipboard, wallboard or insulation.

High-grade deinked paper
Office paper that doesn’t fall into the “mixed paper” category usually ends up being high-grade deinked paper. Most letterhead, copy paper, envelopes and printer scrap that has gone through the printing process must be deinked before it can be reprocessed. Once the ink is removed, the recycled pulp can be made into high-grade paper products, such as printing and writing paper.

Old newspapers
Yes, old newsprint has a category all its own. It’s rarely deinked, so mills use old newsprint to make new recycled-content newsprint, recycled paperboard and tissue, among other paper grades.

Old corrugated containers
Also known as corrugated cardboard, this category includes boxes and shipping materials made from paper. Mills use old corrugated containers to make new recycled-content shipping boxes, as well as recycled paperboard for product packaging, such as shoeboxes and cereal boxes.

Pulp substitutes

This term refers to paper shavings and clippings recovered from paper mills and print shops. Because of the high quality of the fibers in pulp substitutes, mills can use them in place of “virgin” materials for producing high-grade writing and bond papers.

Still wondering what happens to recycled paper once it leaves the office? Check out this video for the basics of recycled paper production. Please post your comments and questions below and we’ll respond. Until then, please continue to toss responsibly.

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