How Does Paper Recycling Work?

The paper industry is the UK's most successful recycler. The recycling process itself helps to recover the fibre from paper, which can then be reused and transformed into other paper forms. Paper recycling is cost-effective, and paper can generally be recycled 4-5 times before the fibres get too short. It is a great way to conserve the environment as well as maintain resources.

Who invented the concept?

On April 28, 1800, an English papermaker named Matthias Koops was granted the first patent for paper recycling: English patent no. 2392, titled ‘Extracting Ink from Paper and Converting such Paper into Pulp’. In his patent application, Koops described his process as, "An invention made by me of extracting printing and writing ink from printed and written paper, and converting the paper from which the ink is extracted into pulp, and making thereof paper fit for writing, printing, and other purposes."

In 1801, Koops opened a mill in England that was the first in the world to produce paper from material other than cotton and linen rags; specifically from recycled paper. Two years later, the Koops mill declared bankruptcy and closed, but Koops' patented paper-recycling process was later used by paper mills all over the world.

The recycling process

Paper Recycling involves 8 key steps. 

  1. As a first step, recovered paper is sorted and graded then delivered to a paper mill.
  2. Pulping: Water is added to the paper. Machines separate the fibres.
  3. Screening: Screens are used to eliminate contaminants that are larger than the fibres. 
  4. Centrifugal Cleaning: During this process, the materials that are denser than fibre are released.
  5. De-inking: Any ink is collected from the paper. 
  6. Dispersion: Remaining contaminant particles are removed using machines.
  7. Nest Washing: Here any small particles are removed, by passing water through the fibres.
  8. Bleaching: Bleaching helps to make the paper white.

Why recycling is necessary

Trees for paper-making are grown and harvested as a long term crop, with new trees planted to replace those cut down. Nearly all paper is made from wood grown in these sustainable forests, so it is a myth to think that virgin paper is ‘bad’ and recycled paper is ‘good’.

Producing recycled paper involves between 28 - 70% less energy consumption than new paper and uses less water. This is because most of the energy used in papermaking is the pulping needed to turn wood into paper.

At Gould, recycled papers make up an important part of our portfolio: