What is paper and card and what is it made from?

Paper and cardboard play a key role in all of our everyday lives, from our homes and offices to the parcels we order, paper is everywhere. But what actually is it? 

Paper is a sustainable resource made by mechanically or chemically processing cellulose fibres obtained from wood. Due to this, it is a highly renewable material as new trees can be planted to replace those that have been cut down to produce paper. 

Despite how renewable paper and card are, it is still really important for us to recycle them to make sure they don’t end up in landfill or as a pollutant in the environment.  Up to 32% of paper and cardboard does NOT get recycled which is a rate which needs to improve. Improving this paper recycling rate will allow us to reduce the impact on our environment from raw production. Recycling 1 tonne of paper saves around 1400 litres of oil, 26,500 litres of water and 17 trees. Nearly all paper can be recycled too, shredded paper recycling from offices makes up a significant portion of the overall waste that gets recycled from offices at 70%. So, how do we recycle all the paper and card we collect?


Wrapped paper to be recycled

Process of paper and Cardboard recycling 

1. Collection: As with all waste, the starting point in the process of recycling cardboard and paper is disposal. Waste services will collect all of the materials from commercial businesses, offices and homes so they can be transported to local recycling facilities to undergo treatment. 

2. Sorting and Grading: When the waste paper and cardboard arrive at the recycling facility, they need to be sorted to ensure they undergo the correct recycling process. This is typically done in grades, which is a measure of the length of paper fibres that dictates the process it can undergo and the end quality of the recycled cardboard and paper. There are many types of recyclable paper and cardboard as it is a very renewable resource with few barriers to it being recycled, with the main barrier being plastic contamination. Sources of contamination will be removed at this stage to ensure the highest recycled plastic quality. 

3. Shredding and Pulping: After paper and card are sorted into different grades, they each need to be shredded using a heavy-duty shredder to break down large pieces into smaller more manageable scraps. These now broken-down scraps can be placed into a large floatation tank with water and chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, which soften the mixture, creating a paper pulp.

4. Washing: The remaining pulp mixture still has impurities such as ink from previous paper and cardboard which need to be removed. More chemicals and water are added to the floatation tank and air bubbles are produced to remove dyes and ink, enhancing the purity of the recycled paper. 

5. Filtration: Making sure the paper and cardboard are pure is essential for high-quality recycling. Once it’s been pulped, it will undergo further filtering using centrifugal systems to separate fibres based on weight and magnets can help remove small metal impurities in the mixture from old packaging.

6. Rolling and Drying: By this point in the process, the pulp sheet can be up to 90% water and 10% fibre. The sheet can now be pressed through a roller to get the desired consistency for the cardboard/paper being manufactured. It now needs to be dried using a heater to form the layers used in paper and cardboard. 

How can we recycle more paper and cardboard?

Paper and cardboard are some of the most sustainable materials we produce. In the UK, the recycling rate of paper and cardboard is 71%, and it’s important that we keep increasing this over time until virtually all new products are made from recycled materials. But how do we do this?

The first step in achieving a higher recycling rate starts at our homes, offices and commercial sites. Educating ourselves on what kinds of paper and cardboard can be recycled, having a designated bin for these items and separating them from unrecyclable materials greatly helps recycling facilities sort materials, simplifying the process. Changing the way we package products with cardboard and paper is also important in recycling more. Contamination is a huge barrier to recycling many products, plastic, metals and glues can make some items not only difficult to recycle but impossible. Being more responsible and sustainable with the packaging choices we make when producing and even buying products can change the industry to find better alternatives. 

In commercial industries we can use specialised equipment for paper or cardboard called balers, which compact the waste products from paper and cardboard bins into bales, making for easier transport to recycling facilities. 

Innovation in paper and cardboard design will help further improve its key properties such as durability, longevity and recyclability, so it can not only be recycled but increases their lifecycle.

Paper and cardboard are materials we deal with every day as a waste management business. We are experienced in not only managing waste but optimising waste practices to help reduce cardboard and paper waste at its source. At Mobius, we offer cardboard and paper recycling services. If you would like to find out how we can help your business recycle more paper and cardboard, please fill in the contact form below: