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Is recycling paper good for the environment?

Paper waste is known to be the second largest component of solid waste, and it’s percentage is also increasing. According to a survey conducted by the World Green Organization, Hong Kong citizens consume more than 65 million paper towels, nearly 30 million towel wipes and nearly 10 million wet wipes every day. It is estimated that the total weight is nearly 176 metric tons, which is equivalent to nearly 12 buses. It can be seen that Hong Kong people consume an amazing amount of paper. Many countries started to work on recycled paper. Regarding the end-use market, Europe and the Asia Pacific are the major regions that use recycled paper for containerboard production. While 95% of the total containerboard produced in the Asia Pacific is made from recovered or recycled paper, this compared to 82%in Europe.

Indeed, recycling paper reduces methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When paper decomposes anaerobically in landfills, it produces the methane. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, together with carbon dioxide contributing to global climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and when they are cut down to make paper products, more carbon dioxide is released than absorbed. Processing wood to make paper pulp using fossil fuel-based energy releases additional carbon dioxide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling one ton of paper can reduce greenhouse gas levels by one metric ton of carbon equivalent.

Recycling paper preserves trees and forests. Every ton of recycled paper saves about 17 trees. Recycled paper serves as an environmentally friendly resource for paper manufacturers, saving costs and energy. However, paper can only be recycled five to seven times before the paper fibers become too short. Material consisting of short fibers can be composted, burned for energy or used as landfill.

However, not all paper can be recycled. Soiled paper like pizza boxes, napkins, tissues, paper towels, paper plates and take-out boxes as common examples of unclean paper that should not be recycled. If this slurry is contaminated with oil from food, it ruins the entire mixture and it must be dumped in a landfill instead of dried into new paper. Soiled paper also poses a health hazard to the people who work in the recycling plants who try to separate out contaminants. Old tissues, napkins and food can carry dangerous viruses, bacteria and molds.

As shredding paper shortens and weakens the length of the paper fiber, which needs to be long and strong in order to be worth recycling. Therefore, you should not put shredded paper in with your recycling. Some items that are mainly composed of paper also have a small amount of wax, plastic or foil added to them, rending them not recyclable. The thin layer of foil lining the inside of soymilk containers, for example, is necessary to maintain its freshness, but is too difficult to separate from the paper during the recycling process. Moreover, bleaching is required to recycle paper, which involves a harsh chemical that is not only harmful to people but also to the environment. But there is no guarantee that the products will be of good quality.



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