Paper recycles well, but needs to be used less

Paper recycles well, but needs to be used less

09.06.2022   News

Once rare, today one of the most common, most versatile and most widely used materials. It's all around us. Newspapers, magazines, books, notebooks, office paper, packaging, boxes, handkerchiefs, toilet paper ...... this is only a fraction of what paper is currently used for. But what is behind its production and use? What is the impact of this mega industry on the environment? What could we do to change that?

One of the largest and most prosperous industries in the world is the paper industry. Despite the modern digital age we live in, the demand for paper has not decreased. From 1890 to 2020, paper production increased from 3.3 million tons to more than 400 million tons per year. The world's largest paper producers are China, the USA and Japan, and Germany, Finland, Sweden and Italy in Europe. The demand for paper is constantly increasing. By 2060, paper consumption is expected to increase 2-3 times. In 2016, the average annual paper consumption per capita in Europe was 125 kg of paper, 215 kg in North America, 43 kg in South America, 113 kg in Oceania, 43 kg in Asia and 7 kg in Africa.

Did you know

  • Global paper consumption has increased by 400% in the last 40 years
  • 420 million tonnes of paper are produced worldwide each year
  • With current paper consumption, demand is likely to double by 2030
  • The paper industry is one of the biggest polluters of the environment
  • 93% of the input material for paper production consists of tree wood
  • Paper accounts for 26-35% of global municipal solid waste production
  • 1 billion hectares of forest are used annually to produce disposable diapers
  • 10 litres of water are used to produce 1 sheet of A4 paper
  • Paper makes up about 14–20% of the weight of municipal waste in Slovak households
  • 1 person in Slovakia uses on average 65-85 kg of paper per year
  • Paper is one of the best materials to recycle
  • Recycling 1 tonne of paper saves 17 trees
  • Some paper products can be made entirely from recycled paper

The use of paper

Most paper is used to make packaging. The most popular is cardboard. Simply put, thick paper that is corrugated and glued on both sides with smooth thick paper. Does it remind you of anything? It's a cardboard box! A cardboard box is used everywhere - to pack electronics, glass, food ... and, paradoxically, also paper products. Office paper products used primarily for printing and writing landed on the second place in the paper consumption.

baliaci material – packaging material, ostatné – other, novinový papier – newspaper, hygienický material – hygiene producs, tlacenie a pisanie – office paper (printing and writing)

Paper production

The base material for the production of paper is cellulose, the primary source of which is wood of trees. Wood accounts for up to 93% of the input material needed for paper production. The paper industry thus has one of the most significant impacts on deforestation and tree loss on the planet. The paper industry is behind almost half (42%) of global logging. As a result, a total of 386 million hectares of forest worldwide were lost worldwide between 2001 and 2019. This loss represents almost a 10% decrease in forests since 2000. 712 million trees will be used to produce 42 million tonnes of toilet paper (average annual world consumption). And that's "just" a toilet paper.

Paper industry, power consumption and pollution 

The paper production and processing consumes a lot of power. The pulp industry is considered to be the 5th largest consumer of power - it consumes 4-5% of the world's power (on a global scale). The most common source of power is fossil fuels. Their use together with fumes from the paper production process are a significant source of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere (CO2, SO2). In addition to power, the industry consumes a huge amount of water - it uses more water per tonne of product produced than any other industry. More than 320 litres of water are used to produce 1 kg of paper alone. With 420 mil. tonnes of paper produced per year, we get an incredible 136,080,000,000,000 litres of water consumed. This number, however, is not final. The amount of water consumed depends on the production technology as well as the specific properties and quality of the paper produced and its further processing. Wastewater from the production process is also a problem. It is polluted by a number of hazardous chemicals, e.g. heavy metals, chlorates, alcohols, resins, glues, solid components from production and the like.

Paper waste

Paper waste accounts for 26-35% of global waste. It makes 14-20% in municipal waste. The average Slovak uses up to 65-85 kg of paper a year.


Paper is one of the easiest materials to recycle. Despite various prejudices, products made of the recycled paper could be of the top-notch quality. However, it should be noted that, like many other materials (e.g. plastics), paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. When recycled, cellulose fibers get shorter and, over time, become unsuitable for the production of certain paper products. However, shorter fibers can be used for the production of toilet paper or napkins. In total, the paper can be recycled 5-8 times! Imagine how many trees and litres of water could be saved, not speaking of air pollution and energy savings! In the production of some paper products, 50-100% of the input raw material may come from pulp obtained from recycled paper (cardboard, newspapers).

Did you know that

  • recycling reduces air pollution by 75%
  • recycling reduces water pollution by 35%
  • recycling reduces energy consumption in production by 70%
  • recycling 1 tonne of paper saves 500-600 W of energy
  • recycling 1 ton of recovered paper will save up to 17 trees and more than 32,000 litres of water
  • 110 tons of sorted and collected paper will save 1 hectare of 80-year-old forest
  • paper recycling rate in the EU is more than 70%

What happens with the paper in the blue container

Not all paper is suitable for recycling. Before recycling, the paper is first sorted on a sorting line based on the type of paper. Unsuitable and unusable paper includes bookbinding paper and boards, wet, greasy, waxy or soiled paper, asphalt and tar paper, thermal printing paper, used diapers and hygiene supplies (pads, handkerchiefs, make - up  wipes, tampons, wet wipes, cotton swabs), Tetra Pack and the like. Before printing paper is recycled, the ink must be removed chemically first. The sorted paper is compressed into cubes and transported to paper processing plant. The paper is crushed "to a pulp" and non-fibrous particles (metal staples, plastic, etc.) are removed from it. Then it is soaked and pulped into fibers. The fibers are repeatedly cleaned until a pulp (technical pulp or cellulose) is obtained. This pulp is further processed depending on the papermaking technology or properties and quality required.

Popis grafu:
triedenie – waste sorting – the waste is put into the blue container or a bag
zber – collection – waste collector collects waste and transports it to the waste recycling plant
separácia – waste separation – on a waste sorting line waste is sorted into separate material and non-fibrous particles (metal staples, plastic, etc.) are removed from it
rozvlákňovanie - Pulping – pulping is the process where fibers are separated and treated to produce pulp
čistenie – cleaning - non-fibrous particles (metal staples, plastic, etc.) and ink are removed from the pulp
sušenie – drying - The wet pulp is then dried out, crushed and made into a roll
nové produkty – new products – the paper is ready to be used

Paper recycling process uses water, energy and chemicals, too. However, compared to the production of paper from primary sources, this process is much more environmentally friendly.

Recycling symbols and paper tags

Paper and paper packaging

popis: vlnitá lepenka – corrugated fiberboard, hladká lepenka – smooth fiberboard, papier – paper, ostatný papier – other paper

The blue container includes all materials marked with the abbreviation PAP. The numbers 20,21,22,39 indicate the type of paper.

Composite packaging

Composites are packages composed of several materials that cannot be separated from each other. In general, if parts of the packaging cannot be easily separated, they are classified as composites (designation C). Sorting of composites is problematic, as many composite materials cannot be recycled (yet). In principle, we classify composites based on the major component present. Symbols on the packaging will tell you what component is dominant.

popis – material / marking
80 – paper and fiberboard/ various metals, 81 - paper and fiberboard/ plastics, 82 paper and fiberboard/ aluminium, 83 - paper and fiberboard/ tin plate 84, paper and fiberboard/ plastics/ aluminium, 84 - paper and fiberboard/ plastics/ aluminium/ tin plate

What can you do?

  1. Keep paper usage to a minimum
  2. Use the electronic form of communication, keep electronic records, etc.
  3. Use digital business cards
  4. Store information in digital form instead of hard copies
  5. Save paper - give priority to duplex printing
  6. Use both sides of the paper when writing
  7. Print only what is really necessary - ask yourself whether you need a hard copy or whether you need to print all pages
  8. If you are printing a document, make sure the contents are correct before you print the paper out
  9. Use recycled paper for printing and copying
  10. Do not throw a piece of paper away unless it has been used from both sides
  11. Buy school supplies (notebooks, etc.) from recycled paper
  12. Limit the use of paper notebooks, stickers, etc. and do not throw them away - use them repeatedly
  13. Pay your bills electronically
  14. Use online product catalogues instead of printed ones - if the merchant sends them to your home, ask them to stop
  15. Ask the merchant to stop putting printed flyers in your mailbox
  16. Use electronic versions of media instead of their printed version
  17. Use cloth towels, tea towels and cloth handkerchiefs instead of paper versions
  18. Use linen shopping bags instead of paper / plastic
  19. Use linen pastry bags instead of paper bags
  20. Buy loose food instead of pre-packaged products
  21. Look for cardboard buyback options
  22. Sort paper separately from municipal waste
  23. Be an example to others

Elaborated by: RNDr. Eva Barbušinová, PhD., Department of Animal Husbandry, Fish and Bees, Ecology and Cynology UVMP