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Paper FAQ

Where did paper come from and what exactly is it?
The word 'paper' comes from the word papyrus, which was used by the Egyptians. Technically, paper is any product in sheet form that is produced via aqueous deposition of fibrous material. Paper as we know it today was(by traditional historical accounts) was first made in China and is credited to a court official named T'sai Lun. Paper can be made from rice, wood(as it is generally accepted to be composed of), and even bananas! For more information on paper and its history, click here.

Where does the wood for making paper come from?
Paper pulp is now derived from parts of trees that are left over after the other parts have been used for industrial purposes, such as housing and furniture. Not long ago, the wood for making pulp came from whole, mature trees, but now, only parts of trees are used.

What types of wood are used to make paper products?
For the vast majority, the woods that are used are pine, birch, fir, spruce, and cedar, which are all softwoods. Eucalyptus is also used, as well as birch and aspen, but hardwoods are not as ideal as hardwoods contain shorter fibers than softwoods.

Why should we recycle paper?
People are often told to recycle paper because it will save the trees. This couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, more trees are planted than the ones that are cut down each year. In essence, therefore, using paper doesn't affect the rain forests at all. Despite the fact that paper does not affect the saving of forests, paper is still a valuable commodity in societies around the world and should be reused whenever possible because paper recycling consumes less energy than creating paper wholly from "virgin" pulp. In addition, when paper is recycled, it is saved from the landfill, as 35 million tons of scrap paper is produced in the United States alone which is an incredible amount that is saved from the landfills if it is recycled.

What kinds of paper are recycled?
The majority of waste papers are recycled, including magazines, newspapers, wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, writing paper, and greeting cards. Paper is recyclable as long as it is not contaminated with waste.

Is there a limit to recycling?
Yes. Recycling only works for a finite number of times. The reasons for this are many:
  • Strength: Each time paper goes through the recycling process, the fibers that comprise it become weaker and must be infused with virgin wood pulp. Even then, six times of use and recycling is the limit for paper.

  • Quality Requirements: There are a significant number of paper grades that require most or all of their composition to be made from virgin pulp because of certain qualities needed.

  • Permanent Usage: There is a significant amount of paper that is not recovered because it is in permanent use, such as in books, artistic works, or housing materials(such as drywall).

  • Irreparable Damage: Some papers are used only once, an example of which is toilet paper or tar paper used in roofing. Papers are also considered damaged if they are contaminated with materials that would damage paper recycling equipment(such papers are called outthrows).

What are the benefits of paper packaging?
Paper has many benefits including being easily recycled, convenience, its quick configurability(e.g. cardboard boxes can be constructed and destructed with ease), and it is made from a renewable resource. Forty-Percent of all packaging is paper and the use of which has been on the rise in the past fifty years.

How is the greenhouse effect naturally decreased?
The greenhouse effect is naturally decreased by forests, as they absorb carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, and converts this gas, thorough photosynthesis, into oxygen and carbohydrates for energy. Younger trees, which are rapidly growing, "fix" carbon dioxide more than older, less growing forests. Therefore, the more trees we plant and replace, the better it is for the environment.