The recycled paper is more sustainable than the mainly white for two reasons: the reduced use of virgin wood (used to make pulp) and savings in energy consumption used for processing.
Recycled office paper is of reclaimed paper waste. These wastes can be pre-consumer (industry-generated paper clippings) and post-consumer (recovered paper selected by consumers for recycling).
The industrial process of paper and stationery production generates high-quality recoverable waste. The cuttings of the paper manipulations are of better quality since they do not contain ink. They are generated by cutting the paper to make notebooks and folders.
Second, the consumer already uses waste paper after recycling.
How did recycled paper make?
Recycled paper can be made from pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. The latter, the user, and selected (blue container) already use all those old documents, magazines, newspapers, and other waste to make recycled paper.
Recycled paper making requires less energy: separating lignin from wood requires a lot of energy. On the other hand, producing cellulose pulp from waste paper is more efficient, and, besides, we are reusing waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Tree felling is also avoidable.
However, the process is not repeatable to infinity: each cycle damages the fibers. For this reason, to make recycled paper, it is common to add virgin fibers to replace lost or damaged fibers. Still, recycled paper production is more efficient and more sustainable than white paper production for copier or printer.
Is conventional paper whiter than recycled?
Formerly it was not. However, some paper mills in Germany can produce 100% recycled paper that is impossible to tell apart from the virgin paper at a glance. But usually, the recycled sheets are a bit darker.
To bleach the paper, it is necessary to use highly polluting and dangerous chemicals such as chlorine. However, some organizations certify the non-use of these compounds. For example, the ECF label, Elemental Chlorine Free, indicates that the paper has been bleached without using elemental chlorine. This bleaching technique prevents the formation of dioxins and other carcinogenic compounds.
Can it recycle again?
If possible. But not to infinity. With each recycling cycle, some of the cellulose fibers degrade and deteriorate to a point where they are no longer recoverable. Therefore, it is common to incorporate a percentage of cellulose pulp obtained from virgin wood pulp. This new paste compensates for the loss of fibers and allows them to extend the recycling cycles.
What are the environmental benefits?
The consumption of recycled paper reduces the use of raw materials (wood) to make cellulose pulp. Besides, this paper’s production requires a lower energy amount: between 40 and 64%, depending on the source. There are discrepancies about the convenience of recycled paper in terms of energy consumption. Although the total energy is less, the recycling process uses more fossil fuels than the traditional kraft process.
Is it cheaper?
Generally, no, in fact, it is somewhat more expensive. But it depends on the manufacturer, the brand, the weight, and the paper’s quality.
What can other materials use to make it?
Surprisingly, an unusual and unpredictable material: elephant dung also can form paper. Elephant manure contains a large number of plant fibers, which in turn contain cellulose. Extracting cellulose from this material is simpler and less expensive than extraction from virgin wood. Why does elephant dung contain cellulose?
The reason is that this animal barely digests its food. But 45% of what you eat remained unprocessed. The excrement contains the plant matter that contains the cellulose still intact. We can separate, wash these fibers, and transform into cellulose to make pulp through a chemical process.