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Recycling Fact Sheet
Australian households and businesses use millions of tonnes of paper every year. For facts and figures on paper and cardboard recycling in Australia, click here to download our fact sheet.
Did you know?
Australians use over 5.5 million tonnes of paper and cardboard each year.

FAQ

How is paper recycled?

A paper bin that is put out for recycling usually includes a number of different types of paper - possibly including old newspapers, cardboard sheets and used white paper. Other things mixed with the paper like staples, sticky tape, glue, plastic, metal clips and food must be taken out before the paper is recycled. Unsorted paper can be used for packagin, while using recycled paper for newspaper requires sorting into different types by hand. The quality of paper collected determines the quality of paper produced.

Once sorted, recycled paper is baled into one tonne blocks fo paper and taken by truck to the paper mill. At the mill, the waste paper is mixed with water in a machine like a washing machine. Objects such as staples and plastic binders are removed and go to the landfill. In this process, between 10 to 30 percent of the waste paper's volume will be lost because the paper is made up of fillers and other materials like clay that are absorbed in water.

For some products, the ink on the paper must be washed off. In this process, a slush of paper and water is mixed with a detergent and air to form a froth on the top of the mixture (like bubbels in a bubble bath). This froth is skimmed off, and the mix is ready to go into the paper machine before it can be dried and made into new paper. Waste paper can be recycled about five to ten times before it cannot be re-used anymore. We can't go on recycling the same piece of paper forever, because the fibres break down and cannot form a strong enough web to make paper.

Can all paper be recycled?

No, but most paper can be recycled. Paper used in plasterboard for house building can't be recycled, and tissues and hand towels are not recycled.

What other limits are there on how much paper is recycled in Australia?

The size of Australia is one of the biggest limitations to how much paper can be recycled here. In places like Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory - where the quantity of paper used is small and the distance to the recycling plant is large - it is often to costly to collect paper for recycling. This is also the case in many country areas.

Can recycled paper be used to make any type of paper?

No. The lowest grade of paper is newsprint, with packaging paper next and the best paper being for printing and writing. Printing and writing papers can be used to make lower grade papers such as packaging and newsprint, but only printing and writing paper can be recycled into more printing and writing paper.

What types of paper do we produce in Australia?

Types of paper produced in Australia include cardboard, packaging, newsprint, plasterboard, a range of industrial papers, tissues and a number of printing and writing papers. There are more than 70 different types of paper produced here with a wide range of uses:

- Cardboard is made into packing boxes and cases for items such as beer, fruit and eggs;
- Daily newspapers are printed on newsprint;
- Plasterboard is used for the walls of houses;
- Industrial papers are made into paper bags and bags to hold cement and chemicals;
- Tissues are made into handkerchiefs, toilet paper and in cleaning and health materials, and
- Printing and writing paper is made into things like schoolbooks, writing pads and magazines.

Packaging, newsprint and industrial paper make up more than two-thirds of the paper produced and used. Not all of the paper used in Australia is made here - more than half of the printing and writing paper used here comes from overseas.

How much of the paper produced in Australia is made from recycled paper?

Recycled paper makes up to 61.5 percent of the fibre used in paper production. 100 percent of the content of packaging and industrial paper is recycled paper. And about 26 percent of newsprint is recycled paper. On average, 12 percent of the content of tissues is recycled paper, with most of this used in a small range of tissue brands. The recycled content of printing and writing papers varies greatly on the grade of paper, but on average it is 10 percent.

How much waste paper is collected each year for recycling?

More than 1.6 million tonnes of waste paper is collected each year, most of which is used in making paper. This represents 49.6 percent of the paper used in Australia, and more than 68 percent of the paper produced in Australia.

Around two-thirds of the waste paper collected is boxes, cartons and other forms of packing paper. Another one-sixth of the waste is old newspapers. Collecting this paper saves the cities and towns we live in about $80 million per year in reduced rubbish disposal costs.

How much paper goes into landfill each year?

Paper makes up between 10 and 15 percent of the waste that is taken from houses to landfill. Waste from houses makes up just under half of the total waste produced in Australia. The other half of the waste comes mainly from building sites but also from offices, shops and factories. Surveys suggest that waste paper makes up less than one-tenth of the total waste going to Australian landfills.

Is recycling a modern innovation?

No, the first paper mill to use recycled material in Australia was built in 1815 using recycled rags. Waste paper collections from households and factories began in Melbourne in the 1920s.

How many Australian paper mills use recycled paper?

Out of the 18 paper mills in Australia, 14 mills use waste paper in some or all of their products.

Does Australia recycle as much paper as other countries?

Most fibre used to make paper in Australia is recycled. Fibre from recycled paper currently makes up 61.5 percent of total production, and this figure has increased significantly in recent years because of major investments made by the industry.

In contrast, the average recycling rate in Western Europe is 49.8 percent, while in the US it is 45 percent. In Europe, the large numbers of people living in small areas make it cheaper and easier to collect waste paper.

What are the benefits to the environment from recycling paper?

By recycling your paper and cardboard you will save space in landfill, and reduce the production of greenhouse gases which results when paper breaks down in landfill. Making paper from recycled materials uses 99% less water and 50% less energy than if produced from raw materials.

Can recycled paper be used for other things besides making paper?

Yes, recycled paper can be used for things like fuel, house insulation, building materials, potting mixture for gardening, and insulation in cars and shoes.