Following the paper trail

As a largely woodless country, the UK is dependent on recovered fibres to feed its paper-making industry. But how does the recycling process actually work? Resource finds out

England (and indeed the rest of the UK) may be a green and pleasant land, but for the most part it isn’t a sylvan green, but a grassy one. In fact, just 12 per cent of the UK’s land base is forested. This means that virgin sources for paper are rare here and we must make paper from other paper.

Indeed, recovered paper is by far the most important material for the UK paper and board industry, representing 73 per cent of feedstock in 2009, according the Confederation of Paper Industries. There’s no doubt about it: paper recycling is big business in the UK. But how is it done?

Well, there are more than 60 grades of recovered paper recognised in Europe and the recycling process will vary slightly depending on what goes in and what comes out. The basic principles are the same, though, so let’s focus on newsprint. Whether we pick up a broadsheet, tabloid or local rag, this is a nation of newspaper readers: as of August 2010, Brits were Paper Treesconsuming on average 1.39 billion newspapers a week (from 22 national titles and 1,290 regional papers). Around 80 per cent of the fibres that make up the newsprint are recycled, so it’s fair to say that newspaper recycling is a vital operation. The UK currently has three of its own recycled newsprint manufacturers – UPM Shotton in North Wales, Aylesford Newsprint in Kent and Palm Paper in Norfolk.

Though newspapers and periodicals and magazines (news and PAMs) are the meat and bones of the recycled newsprint industry, other types of materials – such as catalogues, junk mail, directories, or white office paper – can also be used. The paper comes from a variety of sources: paper merchants; publishers (who supply pre-consumer, over-issue material that never made it off the shelf); or local authority collections, either from bring banks or the kerbside.