Cardboard and Paper Recycling: Options and Disposal

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Two people taking out the paper recycling bin

Cardboard and paper recycling should be something that we all know how to do correctly. Whether you are interested in helping the environment out that little bit more, or you are looking at ways to save money on your recycling, learning more about paper recycling best practices can only benefit both yourself and the environment more.

What is paper, and how does it enter our economy?

Paper is the result of drying and compressing plant fibres. Primarily this pulp is acquired from trees, but it can also be made from bamboo, reeds, hemp, and many other plant-based materials. Cardboard is made up of a thick layer of paper, or several layers of paper glued together. In the case of corrugated cardboard, two thick layers of paper are glued on either side of a corrugated sheet of thick paper, creating a thick padded cardboard sheet.

The application of paper and cardboard are almost limitless, from a simple writing surface to wallpaper and insulation. One way or another though, this material eventually comes to the end of its lifespan, and we need to dispose of it. Surely though as it is a natural material, it doesn't really matter how you get rid of it, right? Well, that's where you would be wrong.

The materials and manufacturing of paper and cardboard are often undertaken overseas. This results in a sizeable carbon footprint from its production and shipping. This on top of the fact that trees or plants that would otherwise assist in removing CO2 from the atmosphere have had to be felled or cut back to acquire the materials means that the environment is in deficit. Let's look at a few quick stats to wrap our heads around this.

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  1. On average, each person creates 96 kg of paper and cardboard waste per year
  2. Almost all packaging waste until recently has been sent overseas for processing
  3. 4 billion trees are cut down each year to meet material demand for paper across the world.
  4. Ireland created 1.1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2019, with paper and cardboard showing the largest increases in volume
  5. 90% of all data in the world is still stored on paper. Most of it is never looked at again.

That being said, it isn't all doom and gloom. Thanks to the determination of the public and local industries, Ireland achieves a 79% recycling rate in its paper and cardboard reclamations. This figure is significantly higher than some of our European counterparts and shows that Ireland can certainly hold its own on the world stage.

Why should I get involved in paper recycling?

As we have highlighted in the details above, cardboard and paper recycling is an important topic for Irish households. While the data and statistics can be impressive, it is sometimes hard to understand how proper waste management can affect your day-to-day lives in real terms that you can see and feel.

Firstly, paper recycling can save you money

As a part of moving home, like how you would check for the best energy prices, you would have checked for a waste disposal company to collect your household rubbish. As a part of this, your agreed-upon package will have come in one of three forms; pay by lift, pay by weight or standard service.

All three of these collection types incentivise households to reduce the volume of general and paper recycling that they create as a part of their integral price plans. For example:

  • Pay by lift - Households with this plan do not have a regular collection calendar, but must generally request a collection when they need it. As such, the more collections that are required throughout the year, the higher their bill will be. Expending a lower volume of waste will reduce the number of collections to pay for.
  • Pay by weight - Logically, this plan charges primarily for the weight volume that is collected. As such, the lighter your bins is, the lower your charges will be.
  • Standard service - This plan generally sets a certain amount of collections per year, and has a maximum annual weight collection limit. If this weight is exceeded, then an extra charge of 0.15 Cents or more will be levied depending on the company you are with.

In addition to this, it is common practice for waste collection suppliers to check that households are recycling correctly and that they aren’t placing items in the wrong recycling bins. If a company finds that a household has done so, this can result in the issuance of a small fine in the region of €30 per instance.

Secondly, cardboard and paper recycling can help the environment

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As we have mentioned earlier, correct cardboard and paper recycling can have a very positive impact on our local area, and the environment. Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 7000 gallons of water, and around 2.2 cubic meters of landfill space. Considering that each sheet of printed paper can be recycled up to 7 times, this significantly reduces the need to acquire new materials and cut down more trees.

On a more localized level, nobody likes to see paper packets, newspapers, or wrappers blowing around our streets, clogging up drains, or ruining green areas near their homes. The correct storage and disposal of these items either in public recycling bins or your home bins will help your corner of Ireland be that little bit greener.

How can I recycle paper?

So we have looked at the nitty-gritty of why cardboard and paper recycling is a good thing, and why you should get involved… but how can you get involved, and what are the best practices?

Cardboard and paper recycling at home

You might think that it is as simple as throwing any old paper in your recycling bin at home, but this is where you are wrong. There are several conditions and types of paper that dictate if the material you have at hand is recyclable, and is permitted to go in your recycling bins. Let's take a quick look at these criteria.

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  • Products must be clean, loose, and dry. Dirty or wet products will contaminate other recycling materials and void their integral value, causing them to be redirected for fuel reclamation or landfill
  • If, for example, you have a piece of paper or cardboard such as a pizza box, and a part of it is soiled by food or grease, this part should be torn off, and placed in the organics recycling bin. The dry remainder can go in your normal recycling bin.
  • Small quantities of shredded paper are permitted to enter your recycling bin, but the machines at waste processing plants can struggle to pick out shredded paper due to its size. So if it is too fine, or you have a large volume, then a trip to a recycling centre is appropriate.

When you choose a waste collection provider for your home, they will inform you of what types of materials they allow in their bins, and what their conditions should be. If you are in any doubt, check your policy information or get in touch with the company directly.

Recycling centres

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If you find that your home bins are too full, or you have a large volume of waste to dispose of, then your next stop will be a recycling or amenity centre. These centres are common in towns or cities and allow you to dispose of excess waste securely and responsibly.

These facilities are also staffed, and free to use. This means that if you aren't sure how exactly you are supposed to get rid of a specific type of waste or need help doing so, the staff should be able to provide you with advice and assistance.

If however you have an unusually large amount of waste or are seeking to dispose of paper waste on behalf of a business, recycling centres may charge a reasonable fee for disposal, as this is not their primary design. Instead, businesses should seek to establish either a single-lift agreement with an authorised collection company or to create an ongoing waste management contract for regular disposal.

What types of materials are classed as paper or cardboard recycling?

To clarify a little further on what exactly can be classed as paper or cardboard recycling, we have provided a summarized list of the common causes of confusion on the subject.

Firstly, what is permitted. Some of this we may have already covered to a degree, but we will expand further upon it in this shortlist.

  • Needless to say, all recycling bin contents must be dry, loose and clean
  • Waste paper sheets and documents
  • Cardboard from boxes or packaging
  • Shredded paper
  • Wrapping paper (So long as it is not metallic)

Now for the trickier items - those that cannot be recycled. As a rule, if it is an item that can ordinarily be considered as paper recycling, but has had contact with natural contaminants such as food, then this should be placed in the organics recycling bin. If the item is a composite or has plastic elements, then this should go in the general bin.

  • Nappies and wipes
  • Paper sachets and foil-lined packets
  • Christmas crackers, wrapping paper and ribbons if they are shiny or metallic
  • Disposable cups (Unless stated otherwise)
  • Used matches
  • Dirty or soiled paper and cardboard
  • Waxpaper (Baking paper) unless stated otherwise

If you are still in doubt about if an item can be recycled, you should check with either your waste collection provider, the product manufacturer, or your local recycling centre.

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