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How Does Recycling Paper Help Landfills

February 26, 2009 08:50 by human

One question that often gets asked is how does recycling paper help landfills?

This is an important question to address. As with any form of recycling, knowing the reasons why it is important and appreciating the benefits makes it easier to put recycling into practice.

Historically waste has been buried in landfill sites. Many important archaeological finds today are from what is basically an ancient landfill location. The nature of waste has changed, however, with many chemicals

and non or slow decomposing items filling up landfill sites. The volume of waste that is produced today has also escalated, meaning that alternatives to landfill must be sought.

Waste Paper in Landfills

When asking how does recycling paper help landfills, it is useful to get a perspective of the volume of waste paper produced. In the 21 years ending 1991, the consumption of paper in the U.S. doubled. As consumption increased, so did the volume of waste paper.

Around one-third of all household waste is paper. It is reported that a staggering 14 percent of landfill space is taken up by newspaper alone. Keeping paper out of landfill sites is the most important reason why paper is recycled. Reducing the amount of paper going into landfills therefore slows down the pace that landfill sites are filling.

Another benefit of keeping paper out of landfills is that decomposing paper releases methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas (20 times more potent than carbon dioxide). It is becoming increasingly more widely accepted that reducing greenhouse gases will help to slow down global warming. Therefore recycling paper has a wider global environmental benefit.

Other Benefits of Recycling Paper

As with many other forms of recycling, the energy used in recycling materials is much less than that used in working with virgin materials. The total amount of energy used to recycle paper can be anywhere between 28 percent and 70 percent less, which represents significant environmental benefits.

Recycled paper does not need re-bleaching, meaning that fewer harmful chemicals are released into the environment. On the occasions where bleaching is required, oxygen rather than chlorine is usually used. This reduces the amount of dioxins which are produced as a by-product of the chlorine bleaching processes.

A common misperception is that the main benefit of recycling paper is to save trees. While this is a feature, most paper now comes from sustainable wood supplies and from trees that are grown and harvested specifically for this purpose. As the trees are harvested, new trees are planted to replace those cut down. Paper is also made from parts of a tree that are unusable by other industries such as construction. Unlike other recycled products, some virgin wood pulp needs to be included in recycled paper. As paper is recycled, so the fibers get broken down each time, resulting eventually in fibers that are too short to use. Therefore a certain proportion of new wood pulp needs to be introduced each time. This means that there will always be a need for new trees to support the paper process, even with maximum recycling.

Buying Recycled Paper

While it is important to recycle paper, it is equally important to buy recycled paper products. This ensures that there is a ready market for recycled products. There are recycled paper alternatives to most paper products, including commercial as well as domestic items. Increasingly, many paper products include a percentage of recycled paper as ‘the norm.’ Famously, the last Harry Potter book was printed in Canada on recycled paper.

Further Reading To Help Answer The Question 'How Does Recycling Paper Help Landfills':
  • - National Recycling Coalition
  • - Tree Hugger website, packed with useful information
  • Energy Information Administration, page of recycling information specifically for children

Recycling paper is a relatively easy way to help make a difference. However, along with other household and garden recycling initiatives, even small steps towards more living can help make big changes..