Scraponomics Episode 148: Paper Guilt

Sep 15, 2016, 05:06 PM

When I’m at a party or a picnic or something like that, sometimes I overhear people who express guilt for using things like tissue, napkins, paper towel, etc., because it often feels like a waste of paper.

So I feel like it may be a good time to bring up the journey that that paper has already taken.

As you already know, Friedland processes a lot of paper so it can be re-pulped and turned into new paper at paper mills. When I say re-pulped, I’m referring to the paper fibers in paper. So if you rip a piece of paper and hold it up to a light and see the little paper fibers, that’s the valuable part. That’s the commodity that’s traded globally, just like copper and aluminum. At Friedland, we process around 26 or 27 different types and qualities of paper.

But the journey of paper is a unidirectional one. In other words, you can’t blow your nose in tissue, throw it in a recycling bin, and expect it to be turned into a Harry Potter book. The higher quality papers can be re-pulped and turned into new stationary and books, but lower quality papers can’t. When paper has been re-pulped a lot already, after awhile, the paper fibers just aren’t strong enough to merit re-pulping them again.

Things like napkins, tissue, and paper towel have been re-pulped and re-blended and recycled so many times, they’re really on their last length of life. They’ve already been recycled a lot, and at this point, all they can do is go back into the ground.

The thing is, you wouldn’t know that the way things are marketed today. In the 1980s, all of sudden we began seeing “green” aisles in supermarkets. "Our paper towel is environmentally green." Well, that paper towel has always been environmentally green, it just wasn’t fashionable until then. People didn’t want to know that they were using used paper back then.

Now they do.

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