|Approximately half of all recovered paper is sourced from industry and businesses in the form of converting losses - such as cuttings/shavings - and unsold newspapers/magazines. Well over a third comes from householders, with paper collection and recovery representing one of the most direct ways in which members of the public can participate in the environmental and social goals enshrined within recycling. Almost any household paper can be recycled, including used newspapers, cardboard, packaging, stationery, direct mail, magazines, catalogues, greeting cards and wrapping paper.
In many instances, recovered paper and board account for more than half the volume of raw material used in the production of new products. High recycling rates are achieved in many countries around the world. In Europe, for example, the recovered paper industry met the voluntary target of a 56% recycling rate by 2005. Meanwhile, developing countries are looking to develop their own collection infrastructures in order to reduce their dependence on imports for feeding domestic paper and board production plants.
Already more than six centuries old, paper recycling has grown substantially during the last few years and continues to expand. Many packaging materials, newsprint and tissues are made wholly or in part from recycled fibre. The recovered paper industry collects material, sorts and segregates it into various types, and processes it for ease of handling, transport and subsequent re-pulping. It uses many different kinds of modern machinery to fulfil these functions, including massive baling machines which apply huge forces to convert recovered paper and board into dense 'cubes' which are easier and more cost-effective to transport to consumers.
If it were not for the efforts of the world's paper recycling industry, a large proportion of unwanted paper - in the form of, for example, off-cuts from printing companies or newspapers from households - would end up in the waste stream and, thus, in landfills.
Industrial generators of unwanted paper/board or tax-payers would have to pay for its disposal.
All paper-making is based on cellulose: recovered cellulose fibres are parted in the paper industry's pulping process, with sophisticated equipment and various chemicals being used to clean and condition the pulp so that the end-product conforms to the strictest standards of hygiene and cleanliness. Successive re-pulping tends to lower the quality of the fibre until, in theory, fibre collapse occurs; it has been estimated that paper can be recycled on average four to six times, depending to some extent on the paper grade in question. Therefore, primary fibres are added to maintain strength and other qualities, and recycling processes can provide for damaged fibres to be removed.
In terms of environmental pollution and energy consumption, recovered paper compares favourably with the production of wood-based pulp made by chemical or mechanical means. As fresh wood fibres are needed to guarantee paper recycling, so recovered paper and forest products complement each other both ecologically and economically.
For this to work, the generators of paper have to see the advantages of making their material available for collection instead of allowing it to be dumped or destroyed. At the same time, the paper recycling industry has to cover its collection and processing costs, while industrial users of secondary material have to be able to manufacture marketable and competitive products. One of the key issues for the recycling industry over recent years has been to create additional demand for products containing high levels of recycled fibre. Indeed, BIR has been instrumental in encouraging the development of new markets.
Increasing globalisation and the rapid growth of the paper and board production base in key developing countries have had a huge impact on movements of recovered paper and board. Worldwide trade currently amounts to more than 160 million tonnes per annum, offering one of the most glaring proofs that the recycling industry is engaged in the production of a product rather than a waste. It is worth noting, for example, that the United Nations' Basel Convention prohibits or severely restricts the transportation of waste between countries while the People's Republic of China bans waste imports. However, China welcomes the import of millions of tonnes of recovered paper and board every year - from Europe, North America and Japan among others - to feed its growing domestic production base. Indeed, the country imported more than 3 million tonnes of recovered paper during the first quarter of 2005 alone.