Paper is one of the easiest and most commonly recycled products. In addition to recycling, paper can also be sustainably and easily repurposed. We discuss small and large-scale approaches to both processes here and with the following sections:
A simple definition for paper recycling is the reprocessing of used paper to form new paper1. In 2011, it was reported that over 66.8% of paper consumed in America was recycled2. In 2016 it was reported that over 72% of paper consumed in European countries was recycled, compared to 29.7% for plastics. The process is so easy that it can be done on a small scale in your own kitchen. Paper reuse and repurposing is even easier. Reuse and repurposing options include reusing waste paper for wrapping, packaging, composting, cleaning, lining pet cages, etc.
The ability to sell commercially recycled paper to foreign markets though has changed since 2011 and the value of this recycled paper has plummeted. Large and small-scale strategies for recycling, reuse, and repurposing of paper are still necessary though if we are interested in living sustainably, reducing our carbon footprint and combatting climate change, protecting trees and sensitive eco-systems, etc. We share here what One Community learned researching paper recycling and what we determined will be the best plan for 100% recycling of all our paper as part of self-sufficient and self-sustainable teacher/demonstration communities, villages, and cities for The Highest Good of All.
One Community is working to create global sustainability and we see a consumer-driven effort to recycle more paper as helpful. We have researched the best small and large-scale recycling, repurposing, and reuse options for paper so we can implement these as part of the first or our sustainable village rollouts consisting of the Earthbag Village and Duplicable City Center. We’ll add to this page our own experience and anything else we learn as we build the 7 sustainable villages. We are open sourcing the process and our research to help others building teacher/demonstration hubs using our plans, those interested in possibly starting their own paper recycling business, and/or for those who would just like to better understand how paper recycling works and how they can positively contribute to the process.
Paper is one of the easiest and most commonly recycled products. Recycled paper already saves millions of trees, immense amounts of water, space in landfills, and all the fossil fuels and other resources that go into the process of making and disposing of paper. The more we recycle, the more we can save. We discuss both small and large-scale paper recycling here with the following sections:
Bulk recycling of paper is extremely important because the average household throws away 13,000 pieces of paper each year3. However, if all paper was recycled/reused, hundreds of millions of trees would be saved each year. Benefits of large-scale waste paper processing include4:
The graphic below shows how industrial-scale recycling works, from when you collect paper in your house to how it is processed5:
Here’s a video illustrating the process too:
To be a good paper recycler, don’t put non-recyclable paper in your recycling bin. These are the types of paper that cannot be recycled6:
Also work to reduce your own paper waste. Call to stop the delivery of magazines and junk mail you don’t want, use digital methods for notes and other things that might otherwise use paper, and reuse paper whenever you can. See below for ideas.
Recycling your own paper can be achieved in many different ways which we will cover in this section. This is especially beneficial for those who do not have access to a local recycling collection service. Our hope is that the methods described will help reduce paper wastage that ends up in landfills. If you’d like some additional ideas, visit Vision Earth for “31 Ways to Reduce Paper Usage”7
For most people, adding shredded paper to compost is probably the easiest and best way to repurpose it. Benefits of this approach include9:
Keep in mind however that there are some papers that shouldn’t be recycled or composted. These include waxy papers, papers with foil or tape on them, and papers that have strong dyes, heavy inks, and other printing chemicals. Also don’t compost coffee cups, take-out boxes, milk or juice cartons and paper plates because they often contain plastic. Only compost them if they are certified compostable.
Papercrete is an inexpensive construction material made of paper, sand, and Portland Cement. Different types of papercrete can be formed depending on the ratio of the ingredients. Some of the benefits of papercrete are10:
Unfortunately, there are also some weaknesses that should be considered when using papercrete as a building material. These are primarily durability and susceptibility to moisture and termites10.
Here’s a video showing how to make papercrete.
Here’s an outline of the ingredients and process11:
Cellulose insulation is an eco-friendly and cheap insulation made by mixing shredded paper (mainly newspaper) with boric acid12. It is typically blown into attic and/or wall spaces. The boric acid makes the insulation fire, mold, and insect resistant.
Here’s a video showing how cellulose insulation is made commercially:
WARNING: Do not breathe in boric powder or cellulose fibers because they can damage your lungs
Paper can also be recycled into new paper. Here is a DIY process from cleanipedia14 for recycling paper to make your own paper. Buying all the equipment new would cost around $120 USD, but most people already own the items needed. One exception would be a shredder, but the paper can also be shredded by hand before being added to the blender. A really high-powered blender (like a BlendTec or Vitamix) can also blend and shred. This leaves only the cost of the mesh and picture frame without the glass, both of which can be purchased for less than $10 USD.
Most types of paper are usable for this paper making process, except for:
Here is a video of the process:
Machinery also exists for large-scale recycling of paper into other products. We discuss here the two non-commercial options we found.
Large-scale paper creation can also be accomplished using machinery. The machine pictured at right is from Alibaba and transforms used paper into tissue paper. The tissue produced can be used or sold, so this is a potential business opportunity for small organizations/communities that produce a lot of waste paper. Starting price for this product is $5k USD and it can go to as high as $25k USD.
Machines can be purchased for recycling paper into cellulose fiber for insulation too. This is much easier than following a DIY tutorial. The machine pictured at right can be purchased for $5k to $20k USD from Alibaba. Paper fed into the machine is crushed and transformed into cellulose fiber for insulation. Makers of the machines say they are high efficiency, low energy consumption, and produce minimal noise.
After completing the research above, we compared the 5 different options for processing used paper. The factors we assessed were: End-product Uses, Business Potential, Cost, Labor, Safety, and Sustainability. The DIY recycling into new paper has been omitted from the comparison due to the process being ineffective at processing the large amounts of paper that will be generated at a sufficient rate.
The easiest community paper recycling business option is to collect paper and to sell it to your local recycling center. That recycling center then sells the paper to companies that use it to make new products. The most common examples of products made from recycled paper are white printing paper, toilet paper and tissues, paper towels and napkins, greeting cards, cardboard, and magazine and newspapers
There is a lot of potential to make good money with a business like this. Part timers can make $300 in a weekend, and some full time business owners make over $100,000 annually. Here are the steps needed for setting up this kind of business:
For more detailed information, check out the article this information was sourced from:
An alternative approach to a paper recycling business is to collect the paper and create a product from it that you can sell to make a profit. If you live in a small community, you can offer to collect their recyclable paper from them and use it in your products. It is also a great way to recycle your own paper.
By treating the paper pulp, you can recycle it into paper for your own use and for creation of new products. Some potential products you can manufacture at home are paper plates, paper envelopes, paper pockets, and many more. With a little creativity, you can turn an old paper bag into a cute holiday gift bag. You can also turn paper bags into actual gift wrap by turning them inside out or turn them into gift tags! You can also create your own paper (see above) and sell it as an arts and crafts option for others.
Creative retailers are also selling other items that have not traditionally been made from recycled paper. For instance, Ten Thousand Villages sell flower vases, picture frames, clocks, and other crafts made from recycled paper. Here are a couple Etsy retailers who sell recycled paper products they made themselves too.
If you want a comprehensive list of potential recycled paper products, check out these articles:
Moving forward, One Community will be composting all our cardboard and compostable paper waste. If sufficient paper is generated to warrant it, we will invest in an industrial shredder to further aid the composting process. Our reasons for choosing this waste processing methodology are:
If we end up with enough paper to justify purchasing an industrial shredder, any paper not used for compost can be used to produce cellulose insulation for the various Highest Good Housing projects One Community is undertaking. One Community will open source here our complete process as we grow our community to 1000+ residents and host over 100,000 overnight visitations annually. Our goal in doing this is to provide an open source example for other communities/organizations that want to take recycling/processing paper into their own hands, especially in situations where local recycling services aren’t available.
Here are the numbered resources referenced above:
Here are other resources we’ve found useful:
One Community has invested extensive time and research into the best small and large-scale recycling, repurposing, and reuse options for paper (and plastic, glass, polystyrene/styrofoam, clothing, food and other perishable items, and even non-recyclables). Composting looks to be the easiest, safest, and most sustainable option. We will open source share here our group’s experience with composting 100% of our paper as part of the development of the Earthbag Village and Duplicable City Center. We will evolve this page with videos and other data from this process as we use what we learn to help us improve our recycling, repurposing, and reuse strategies as we build each of the next 6 sustainable village models and grow to a community of hundreds.
Q: In the US, how much recovered paper stayed in the US?
In 2011, 42 percent of recovered paper was exported to overseas markets. About 53 percent stayed in the US to be recycled into paper and paperboard products. The remaining 5% was used to make other non-paper products. (source)
Q: What would you recommend for an individual interested in recycling all their paper waste?
First and foremost, reduce how much paper waste you produce by canceling junk mail and magazines you don’t need. Then compost your paper if you can. Composting is by far the easiest, most affordable, and most useful approach to repurposing paper waste.
Q: Can a piece of paper be recycled indefinitely?
No, each time paper is recycled, the fibers get shorter. After being recycled multiple times (5-7), the fibers become so short they can no longer bond to create new paper. To address this, new fibers are added to replace the unusable fibers that wash out of the pulp during the recycling process.
Q: What products can be made from recycled paper?
Besides easily recognizable paper products (e.g, writing paper or paper towels), more than 5,000 products can be made from recycled paper, including:
Q: Who invented paper and when?
Ts’ai Lun in 105 AD.