But why can’t we recover 100 percent of recycled paper?
The Challenges of Recycling Paper
The quality of the paper collected for recycling plays an important role in how efficiently it can be recycled. The higher the quality of the paper, the more paper you can make using its recycled fibers.
But paper can only be recycled up to seven times before the fibers become too weak and too short to make another product. The wear and tear caused by the various recycling processes — collection, deinking, remanufacturing — lowers the yields of each successive round of recycling.
And some paper products simply cannot be recycled. For example, soiled bathroom tissue and greasy food containers are not recyclable for obvious sanitary reasons. Other paper-based products such as drywall and pet bedding, cannot be reused. In addition, long-use products such as books, official documents and photos are kept out of the recycling stream for decades.
Besides the physical limits of recycling paper, the move to single-stream collection — where plastics, papers and glass are collected in a single truck for convenience — has resulted in dramatically reduced fiber quality. Employees at sorting facilities must manually remove unrecyclable items from the recycling line, which is a costly endeavor. Too often, these non-recyclable items (such as plastic grocery bags, diapers and dirty food containers) get missed, rendering batches of recycled content unusable.
According to USA Today, people are still unsure about how and what to recycle. As a result, towns and cities across the nation must work to clear the confusion. Some communities conduct curbside audits, and collectors leave behind items that cannot be recycled. Other communities refuse to collect any recycling when the bins contain garbage.