Paper

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In Northern Ireland, nearly 20% of the material in our bins is paper. Paper is all around us as books, newspapers, printer paper, labels on cans and bottles, posters on the walls and many other products.
In the past processed animal skins called parchment was used for writing in Europe. In Ancient Egypt a plant called papyrus was used. It was cut into thin strips that were laid over each other, soaked and beaten with a stick to bind them together

Today almost all paper is made from cellulose fibre from pulped wood, but paper can be made from many things including cotton, straw, bamboo and even elephant dung!

Many areas of the world produce large amounts of wood, some of which is used in the paper industry and include South America, Indonesia, South Africa and Europe. Around 35% of the world’s timber production is used to make paper and card.

Trees for making paper are now usually grown in ‘sustainable forests’, this means that new trees are planted to replace those cut down.

Sometimes old forests are cut down for their wood and then replaced with new trees. Often the new trees planted are from other parts of the world and are not good for wildlife.

To make paper, the wood must be pulped (mashed up) to get the fibres needed. There are two methods of pulping, chemical and mechanical. Chemical pulping uses chemicals mixed with the wood to separate the wood into the tiny fibres needed to make paper. Some of the chemicals needed are very dangerous. In mechanical pulping the wood is chipped, heated with steam and ground between stones. Many types of paper also contain chalk or clay to make them smooth and white.

The fibres are then bleached before being formed into the paper. The paper is then dried in ovens and cut to size.

Paper manufacture consumes a lot of energy, both in the transportation of the wood and the paper making process. Most of this energy comes from fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, but some factories burn leftover fibres to generate the power they need. The process also uses a lot of water. Sometimes polluted water from paper factories can get into rivers causing problems for the creatures living there.

At home you can recycle paper using your recycling bin or Kerbie box. You can also recycle paper using paper banks at Recycling Centres and in some supermarket car parks. Many schools also collect waste paper for recycling.

Make sure the paper is clean and dry and remove things like paper clips and sticky tape.

For more information, contact your local Council.

  • paper is recycled into many different products including newspaper, computer printer paper, drinks trays, egg boxes and cardboard boxes.
  • in the recycling centre the paper is sorted and crushed into blocks.
  • in the recycling factory, the paper is shredded and a magnet removes the staples before the paper is mixed with water and pulped in large metal tanks.
  • the pulp is sucked from the tanks and either sprayed onto a moving belt to make flat paper sheets or into moulds to make packaging such as egg boxes.
  • paper can be recycled around 8 times before the fibres become to short to stick together to make a new product.
  • some paper is recycled in Northern Ireland into egg boxes and other moulded packaging. A large amount of the rest goes to a paper mill in North Wales to be recycled into blank newspaper.
  • the machines used to harvest trees damage the soil with their tracks and this can result in flooding and loss of nutrients from the soil.
  • forests planted for wood are often poor in wildlife and animals that do live there lose their homes when the trees are cut down.
  • recycling paper uses 70% less energy and causes 35% less water pollution. Less energy used means less carbon dioxide released into the air.
  • each tonne of paper recycled saves 17 trees.
  • each household in Northern Ireland uses around 3 trees worth of paper per year, most of which could be recycled.
  • recycling paper means fewer trees need to be cut down, less waste in our rubbish bins and less space taken up in landfill sites.