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Paper - recycling 202

How many times do you think paper can be recycled?

Honestly, I don't know. But there are around fifty grades that the stuff can be sorted into. And you thought separating your newspaper from your cardboard from your office paper was a pain. St Paul residents don't have to sort their paper. We have a machine that separates the larger (than two feet) cardboard from the rest of it and then people sorting the rest by hand in our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).

Each time paper gets recycled, the fibers shorten, depending on how short the fibers are, different products can be made out of it. This also means the paper is weaker and not as good at holding itself together.

From what I know (and I am still learning) paper towel tubes (not paper towels) and toilet paper rolls are almost all recycled paper with fibers to short to recycle again. Egg cartons are the same. The good news is that this means no fresh trees were cut to make those tubes. The bad news is that they cannot be recycled again.

I am not sure where on the fiber spectrum office paper, cardboard, boxboard (cereal and other dry food boxes), newspapers, and magazines are, but I know that all of them can be recycled and office paper is worth the most.

More difficult to recycle are what we call "wet strength" - which is boxboard used to hold soda and beer together. This has a light plastic coating on it to prevent condensation from destroying the box. Saint Paul residents are able to recycle this but Minneapolis residents have to sneak it across the border. Many recycling companies won't collect this type of paper because although the fibers are long, it takes extra solvents and a longer soaking time to separate the plastic from the fiber so it is among the cheapest recycled paper we can sell.

Two recyclable fiber items we haven't been able to collect because the supply and demand are too unstable are freezer boxes, aseptic packages (juice boxes and soy milk containers among other things) and gable top (orange juice and milk cartons).

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