Have you ever wondered what life as a piece of paper would be like? Okay, neither have I…but the life cycle of paper products is actually pretty interesting and rather complex. Let’s dig deeper and take a brief look into what each step of the cycle entails.
- Forests - The paper making process begins with the felling of trees for wood. Ideally, we’d like to see paper coming from responsibly managed and sustainable forests – so look for that FSC certified label the next time you purchase paper.
- Manufacturing - The manufacturing step is very energy and water intensive. The harvested wood is processed into wood chips and transported to paper mills where it is turned into pulp. There are two kinds of pulping methods: mechanical and chemical. The pulp is then bleached (ideally using chlorine-free bleach), sprayed onto screens to allow the fibrous bands of the pulp to stick together, and is then rolled or pressed in order to retrieve the proper thickness of paper. The paper “sheet” is then rolled into large reels before getting cut to a certain size.
- Use - This step should be pretty familiar: the paper is distributed all over the world and sold for consumer use.
- Recovery - The recovery step begins with the proper recycling of paper into recycling bins. At the recycling facility, the paper is sorted, turned into pulp again, removed of ink, and cleaned of foreign materials (such as staples).
- Reuse - Recycled paper pulp is either exported overseas or retained for use in North America. It gets mixed with virgin fiber and goes through the same process as before, but this time to produce “post-consumer recycled paper”.
- End of Life - Recycled/recovered paper pulp can actually be reused many times. However, the fibers in the paper become weaker each time, so it does have a limit. Paper can also prematurely meet its end of life if it is not recycled properly, so please remember to recycle!
For more information on environmental issues that arise from the paper making process, please check out The Paper Life Cycle.