Paper is a commodity that can be recycled up to 7 times, so it is great that the Czechs are among the European leaders in paper sorting. Every year, each inhabitant sorts about 14 kilograms of paper, which is more than 147,000 thousand tonnes per year. According to EKO-KOM, the recycling rate for paper is as high as 94%, which is the highest of all types of sorted waste. However, few people know what the actual journey of paper from sorting to the blue bins is. The story only begins there.
The closer we have the container to our house, the better we sort.
We're good at sorting paper. For example, at the paper sorting plants of the Prague Services company in 2016, only about 9% of the total amount of paper sorted from residents and businesses was dirt and impurities. This is a very good result, which in recent years has also been helped by the increasingly popular door-to-door collection systems, where containers or bags for sorted waste are actually taken by collection companies almost directly from the house. Thanks to the convenience of sorting, people sort more, are more careful about what they put in the bins, and the level of "cleanliness" of the sorted commodities is increasing. This was confirmed by a pilot project launched in 2016 by the Prague 7 municipality in cooperation with Prague Services and the non-profit organisation INCIEN.
"We are still trying to improve the waste sorting system in our district with the goal of becoming a nearly waste-free district. In practice, this means that we can get down to 10-15% of mixed municipal waste and sort the rest. Such results are considered zero waste targets and are being achieved by some cities in Europe. That is why we have introduced a paper, plastic and glass sorting system in the inner blocks and we have been very pleasantly surprised by the results. Prague Services, the collection company we worked with on the project, estimated a 20-30% increase in sorted components compared to the amount of waste sorted in conventional collection centres. We will continue in this direction," says Ondřej Mirovský, Deputy Mayor of Prague 7.
At the sorting stations, paper is further sorted into individual commodities such as cardboard, newspapers, magazines and mixed paper. The paper is pressed into bales and delivered to paper mills and other recycling companies for further processing and use. The most typical example of recycling is the production of new paper, cardboard or paperboard. These are made by pulping sorted paper into a pulp containing paper fibre and other impurities. This mixture goes to a paper machine where it is coated on screens, pre-dried, pressed, smoothed and dried to the final form of the new product.
However, with proper sorting, the whole "wheel" is just beginning. So what to remember when sorting paper?
Most of us would in good conscience throw egg cartons into a blue bin for paper collection. But egg cartons can't be recycled well enough. They are made of paper, but they have been recycled so many times that they are the last use for paper. So it's better to throw them in the mixed waste bin or, better still, compost them!
So in the case of egg cartons and paper rolls, we don't have to be so conscientious about sorting. In fact, as you have already read, we can only recycle paper seven times, because then the paper fibres are so short that they cannot be made into paper. So we can find other uses for egg wrappers or toilet paper rolls and use them, for example, as makeshift planters in spring.
From the blue container to the facade of the houses.
However, not all paper is recycled back into the original product. There are also many examples of interesting Czech companies that process paper into a wide range of products. In fact, in addition to recycling paper on paper, we can also produce interesting products for the construction industry. In the Czech Republic we can boast several recycling companies that export their products all over the world. One such company is CIUR a.s., which has been producing thermal insulation since 1991 and is one of the world leaders in the production of cellulose fibres based on recycled paper. The production plant in Brandýs nad Labem processes tens of thousands of tonnes of secondary raw materials annually, of which paper accounts for a significant part. "We accept paper and plastic waste, sort it and convert it into raw material, from which we subsequently produce an ecological and environmentally friendly product using waste-free technology. Currently, we use this technology to produce more than 50 types of products that are used in road and civil engineering." says the company representative Mr. Mgr. Michal Urbánek. Recycling paper with the final production of insulation materials has undeniable advantages for customers who choose this material. The advantages lie not only in contributing to the sale of ecological products, but also in creating an optimal standard of living. "By recycling paper, we protect not only our financial expenditure on energy and the environment, but also our health thanks to the unique temperature balancing in the house both in summer and winter, thanks to the unique physical and chemical properties of natural cellulose fibre," adds Mr Urbánek.
By recycling it, we protect not only our financial expenditure on energy and the environment, but also our health thanks to the unique temperature balancing properties of natural cellulose fibre, both in summer and winter.
So the paper's journey is just beginning when we sort it into the right container. And while it looks like we can't get any better at sorting, there is still room for improvement. According to physical analyses of mixed waste, that is waste that ends up in black waste bins going to landfill or, at best, to energy recovery facilities, it is still a full 7%, according to the latest EKO-KOM data from 2016. So there is still room for improvement. It is a shame for every paper that is not used. By recycling it, we protect not only our wallet but also the environment.