3 Places Paper Should Be Recycled

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 03/12/2013

In 2011, a record-high 66.8 percent of paper was recovered and recycled in the U.S., which means people are recycling quite a bit in their daily lives. There's always room for improvement, however, and though 87 percent of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off recycling options for paper, it's important to ensure you're recycling whenever you can.


March 12, 2013

by Kathryn Sukalich

In 2011, a record-high 66.8 percent of paper was recovered and recycled in the U.S., which means people are recycling quite a bit in their daily lives. There's always room for improvement, however, and though 87 percent of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off recycling options for paper, it's important to ensure you're recycling whenever you can. To help you promote recycling in your day-to-day life, we've put together a list of three places you should always recycle. We've also compiled some steps you can take to start recycling - or even start a recycling program - in those places in case there isn't a recycling system already in place. With a little time and effort, you can help make the paper recycling rate even higher.

1. At Work

Why It Matters

If you work in an office, or in many other workplaces for that matter, you probably use a fair amount of paper. Even though technology can help reduce the amount of paper we use, paper still plays a prominent role in work life. Plus, the average American uses almost six 40-foot tall trees worth of paper each year. On the upside, though, purchases of printing and writing paper declined by 5 percent in 2011, according to paperrecycles.org, a website maintained by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), and recycling of printing and writing paper only declined by 1.2 percent. This means that while there may be less paper in use, we are recycling a larger chunk of that paper.

Printing and writing paper are likely the most common types of paper in many workplaces, but plenty of other paper types including envelopes, stationary, magazines and paper-based packaging are found at work as well. Since so many types of paper surround people at work, employees need to know which types can be recycled and how to do so.

Steps to Take

Your employer or the building you work in may already have recycling procedures in place, so first check to familiarize yourself with the options available to you. If a recycling program for paper doesn't exist, you may need to look into starting one. The American Forest & Paper Association offers some useful guides to help you implement paper recycling programs. For a detailed set of instructions about getting started with recycling at work, take a look at their Workplace Recycling Guide. Here are some of the basic steps to keep in mind while you plan:

  • Identify Recyclables - You may need to conduct an audit of your workplace's waste stream to find out what kinds of paper are being thrown away, how much there is and where most of this paper is generated.
  • Find a Market for Your Paper - You will need to find a vendor to collect and transport your paper for processing. Check with your building manager or trash hauler, as they may be able to assist you.
  • Talk with Management - Those in charge will want to know about cost and potential benefits, and having management on board will be important to the success of a program.
  • Organize Collection Procedures - You will need to coordinate with custodial staff about who will collect recyclable paper and where bins will be located. Also make sure to select containers that are easy to recognize and put them in both common spaces and at individual desks.
  • Get Employees Involved - Communication is key to a good paper recycling program, so make sure everyone knows what's going on.
  • Provide Periodic Updates - Telling everyone how the program is doing and how it could be improved will help keep co-workers motivated.

Special Considerations

Early in the process, you'll want to find out which types of office paper can be recycled and whether they need to be separated in any way. Later on, make sure employees understand any specific steps they may need to take before recycling paper. Putting up signs or fliers in communal areas may be helpful. AF&PA holds annual Paper Recycling Awards, so if your workplace implements a noteworthy recycling program, you could consider entering their contest.

2. At School

Why It Matters

As places of learning, schools have the unique ability to teach kids good recycling practices. If children learn how to recycle in school, they're likely to carry some of that knowledge home with them as well. Just like offices, schools use many types of paper including writing and printing paper, notebooks, folders and paper-based packaging. Think about all the items that have to be printed every day like tests, handouts and assignments. Putting a system in place to save all these resources can benefit everyone, since making recycled paper only uses 60 percent of the energy it would take to manufacture new paper.

Steps to Take

AF&PA also offers a detailed guide for starting a school recycling program, which is worth a look if you're thinking about getting your school to start recycling. In general, they offer these basic steps to get a program up and running smoothly:

  • Identify Recyclables - Conduct an audit of your paper waste to see how much and which kinds your school produces. Be sure to include classrooms, offices and libraries in your assessment.
  • Decide What to Collect and Who Will Collect It - Talk with your school's trash collector or the community's recycler to find someone to collect and transport your paper waste. You may need to work within your school's existing disposal contract.
  • Talk with Administrators - School administrator support will be integral, and those individuals may be able to work with custodial staff to arrange collection plans.
  • Choose a Coordinator - Designating a person (or group of people) to lead the project will help facilitate the process.
  • Plan Collection Procedures - Choose containers, train staff and inform students.
  • Phase In & Kick Off - Larger schools may wish to test programs by first recycling in certain areas to help students and staff adjust. A kick-off event can create enthusiasm and put everyone on the same page.
  • Report on Results - Track the success of your program and report back to students and staff.

Special Considerations

In addition to making sure you are recycling the proper materials and separating them if need be, schools have a few other potential recycling dilemmas you should think about ahead of time. Because of the nature of the school year, you will need to determine if recycling services will continue during school breaks. It's also important to remind students about recycling practices after each break because they may not remember the rules after a few months away from school. You can make recycling in a school setting fun, and doing so will help keep students' attention and raise participation. Contests between classrooms and recognition can entertain students and also help meet paper recycling goals.

AF&PA holds an annual paper recycling competition for schools, too, so consider nominating your school. The EPA also offers some tips for recycling with different age groups in schools, and paperrecycles.org provides lesson plans for teaching elementary school-age kids about paper recycling.

3. In Your Community

Why It Matters

87 percent of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off recycling for paper, which is great if people utilize those options. Just think about all the paper that goes through your home; cereal boxes, cardboard, newspaper, junk mail and packaging. In 2010, the New York Times reported that Americans ate 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and some of that packaging is composed of paper. Knowing which paper products can go in your curbside bin is important because putting non-recyclable paper in the bin can cause problems for recycling centers and putting recyclable paper in the trash needlessly fills up landfill space.

Steps to Take

Details about starting or adjusting a recycling program in your community can be found in AF&PA's Community Recycling Guide, but here are the basics:

  • Learn What Residents Know - One of the biggest challenges of community recycling is communication, so a brief survey about what residents know and are doing to recycle is a good place to start.
  • Talk with Professionals - Your waste hauler will likely be able to provide information about pick up and transport services for paper. Ask about how recyclables will need to be prepared. Discuss recycling bins and containers.
  • Communicate - Tell everyone the plan. Use email, newsletters, social media and fliers to explain to residents what they need to do. Using clear language and visuals can help simplify the recycling process.
  • Correct Mistakes - In a community with many people, mistakes are bound to happen. Correspond with your recycler and remind residents of procedures.
  • Keep Residents and Community Members Updated - Providing positive feedback that allows people to see how their behavior is making a difference will help ensure the long-term success of the program.

Special Considerations

In a community setting, the biggest obstacle you will face is getting your recycling message out and making sure residents recycle correctly. You will not have a captive audience the way you might at an office or in a school, so spend extra time reaching out with fliers and through any media outlets available to you. In a large community, you may also need to target your message to a variety of people such as senior citizens or people for whom English is a second language, AF&PA explains. You might also need to find out if there are any specific community members you need to speak with about a recycling program such as homeowners associations or local government.

If you'd like to enter your community in AF&PA's annual paper recycling competition, visit their website.