How to Recycle Paper at Home (How many times can paper be recycled?)

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

I was inspired to do the original recycle from a TikTok video I saw. I thought it was such a cool eco thing I can do by myself! Then, I began researching paper recycling for a recent video (you can find it here). Here, I learned more about the recycling process and was reminded that paper can only be recycled 5-7 times. Why?



Paper is made of natural wood fibers and with each recycle, they shrink more and more. Paper can be recycled past that 5-7 times but only if new fiber is added to make up for what has been lost. So, I wanted to put this to the test.



Can paper only be recycled 5-7 times? Let’s find out!


Hypothesis: I believe that the commercial processing of paper recycling makes it weaker that recycling by hand, therefore allowing paper to be recycled more than 5-7 times, but still not infinitely.


Method: recycle paper every other day until no paper remains (or it becomes too difficult to recycle). To read more about how I will recycle the paper, keep reading below for the instructions.


Supplies Used:

  • Paper

  • Deckle (see below for how to make a deckle)

  • Blender

  • Lots of towels/rags

  • Iron (not necessary, but helpful)

  • A place to dry the paper (I use baking sheets)

  • Lot’s of water

  • A tub


HOW TO MAKE A DECKLE (the deckle is the screen like object used to collect the paper pulp and drain out the water):


Gather supplies:

  • Two frames of identical size (I used old picture frames found in the garbage but you can handcraft two frames of the same size)

  • Enough screen to cover the frame (x3)

  • Staple gun (plus staples)

  • Hot glue gun (plus glue)

  • Scissors


Instructions/tips:

  • On the back of one frame, hot glue or staple a piece of screen to it. Leave the other frame empty

  • The other screens will be used to get the paper dry (see video for a better visual/description)

  • I recommend stapling if possible, but my frame was too thin. Hot glue works well, just not at sturdy

  • Try to pull the screen as right as possible so it doesn’t sag

  • If using metal screen, sand the edges to keep it from cutting you



Steps for each recycle:


  1. Collect some paper, any color, and size

  2. Shred it by hand, as small as possible, but big-ish pieces are fine, too OR you can use an eclectic shredder

  3. Place a few handfuls in a blender, about half full

  4. Top with water (I do about 6 cups), not too much so it doesn’t make a mess

  5. Blend 30-90 seconds until a decent pulp is formed

  6. Assemble the paper-making station by filling a tub (bath tub, plastic tub, etc, big enough for the deckle to fit) with water. I do about 4-5 inches of water

  7. Place the deckle (both pieces) in the tub, screen side down

  8. Pour some of the pulp over the deckle, not all of it. You should see no more bits of screen, but don’t apply it too thick

  9. Jiggle the deckle (gently) in the water to even it out, remove from the water and allow most of the water to drip from the deckle. Remove completely and place on a towel

  10. Remove the empty frame side of the deckle and place a second piece of screen on top, pat the paper dry. Flip and repeat on the other side

  11. Transfer the paper to a thin towel, cover with another thin towel and pat lightly with an iron to make it more compact

  12. Carefully transfer the paper to a drying rack/baking sheet and let dry for 24 hours or until dry (depending on sun, air flow, etc, it can take anywhere from 12-48 hours)



I followed the steps to recycle (1-12) every day. The results are as followed:


Day 1, 1st recycle: I collected paper from my recycle bin, about 1/3 of my shredder bin. This made 5 solid, approximately 8x11 pieces of paper. Let dry for several days before next recycle. Unfortunately, I did this first recycle before committing to this study and did not take any measurements.


Day 2, 2nd recycle: I shredded the already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. There was noticeably less paper in the shredder bin. Today’s weight was 69g. After repeating the process, I ended up with 4.5 sheets of paper.


Day 3, 3rd recycle: Again, I shredded the already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. Again, noticeably less paper and the weight came in at 64g. After repeating the process, I ended up with 4 sheets of paper. Some observations: steadily losing 5g and half a sheet of paper per recycle.


Day 4, 4th recycle: Shredded already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. Once again, noticeably less paper in the shredder bin. Today’s weight was 59g and total sheets came to 3 pieces. This was most certainly a mistake on my part making the sheets too thick. Since I lost only 5g of weight, this should have been 3.5 sheets instead of 3.


Day 5, 5th recycle: Shredded already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. Once again, noticeably less paper in the shredder bin. Another observation is that paper gets more and more fragile after each recycle once dry. It shreds very easily and blends very easily as opposed to the first few recycles. Today’s weight was 54.5g and total sheets came to 3. Again, this was a mistake on my part as the 4th recycle should have produced 3.5 sheets.


Day 6, 6th recycle: Shredded already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. Once again, noticeably less paper in the shredder bin.Today’s weight was 45g, the first day that 10g was lost. Unsure of why this happened, but possibly because some of the pulp was lost in the water during the 5th recycle. Still ended up with 3 sheets of paper though very thin. This is strange since double the weight was lost but still the same amount of sheets.

Day 7, 7th recycle: Shredded already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. Once again, noticeably less paper in the shredder bin. Paper has begun to become very fragile when trying to shape, press out water, and iron. Ended with two pieces.


Day 8, 8th recycle: Shredded already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. Once again, noticeably less paper in the shredder bin. Noticeably more fragile. One piece fell apart a lot though still held together, just with holes. Ended with two pieces.


Day 9, 9th recycle: Shredded already recycled paper and repeated steps 1-12. Once again, noticeably less paper in the shredder bin. This was my last recycle. I decided that since I once again ended with two pieces and barely lot any paper weight that this might go on for a long time. I got kind of burnt out of the process of paper making every day, so I’m calling it quits for now. I might resume the process in the future just to see how far I can truly take it, but for now, this is where we end.



TOTALS:


Recycle 2: 5 sheets shredded, 69g, made 4.5 sheets

Recycle 3: 64g, made 4 sheets

Recycle 4: 59g, made 3 thick sheets

Recycle 5: 55.5g, made 3 normal sheets

Recycle 6: 45g, made 3 thin-ish sheets

Recycle 7: 42.5g, made 2 sheets

Recycle 8: 41.5g, made 2 sheets

Recycle 9: 38g, made 2 sheets


It was very cool to duplicate this process at home and get a better understanding of the paper recycling process. I hope that this was helpful for you and I encourage you to watch the video to get a better visual of the process. I am glad that we made it past the threshold of 7 recycles!


Thank you so much for reading along and until next time, remember that the small changes you make have a big impact in the long run :)


Emma

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Emma

Dendler

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by! 

My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...

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