Paper Matters Blog
Sustainability 101: Recycled vs. Recyclable

Recycled and recyclable, tomato/tomahto, right? Actually, there’s more to it. All recyclable paper can be recycled, but all recycled paper is not recyclable. Try saying that 5 times fast! It may seem confusing, but there is both a rhyme and a reason to how the paper industry determines if something does or does not meet the recycling standard. Below, we’ll break down the nuances between the two, because, though it may seem small, when it comes to better understanding how to reduce waste and positively impact our environment, it’s important to understand the distinction between “recyclable” and “recycled.”

Recyclable Products

First things first, “Recyclable” products are able to be recycled, meaning you can place the item into the recycling bin, versus the trashcan, once you’re done with it. Several factors affect the recyclability of items, including age, cleanliness and how it was made; certain plastics that are marked with the universal recycling symbol and are clean of residue may be recycled, glass recyclables are often restricted to empty bottles and jars and all-aluminum beverage cans and steel cans may be recycled, as long as they are thoroughly rinsed first. Most paper products can be recycled as long as they are relatively clean and have no food waste or oily residue, but the amount of time that a sheet has been reused determines whether or not it’s recyclable. So, just because paper was recyclable before it went through the process does not mean it can be recycled again.

If you’re worried about whether or not to place unneeded print-outs in the bin, then worry no more. It’s not up to you to decide whether your paper meetings the recycling standard or not, it’s up to the professionals! Recyclers and paper merchants collect paper materials from the bins that you roll to the curb each week, paper stores in your area, paper scrap yards, and other commercial outlets that generate paper waste. After the papers are collected, they are then measured, graded for quality, and hauled to recycling paper mill facilities.

Recycled Products

“Recycled” products, unlike some recyclable items, have already gone through the recycling process and are old items made new. A shirt can be made from recycled plastics and fibers, but that doesn’t make the shirt recyclable. Ultimately, the difference between the two words comes down to what something is, and what something can be.

Let’s say you’ve chosen a recycled office paper—EarthChoice®100 Recycled Office Paper—for your home or work supply. Our office paper will always tell you what percentage of the sheet has been recycled, and Domtar EarthChoice®100 Recycled Office Paper offers the highest level of recycled content available (100%). You can trust that the office paper you’ve chosen was made at least in part from content that’s already been recycled. Our EarthChoice® Office Papers line also offers 30% and 50% options, which means that the paper is made with 30% and 50% post-consumer recycled fibers respectively. We provide a wide range of recycled content, and all of our recycled content is sustainably sourced from North American forests and our recycled papers still boast an eye-pleasing brightness and excellent runnability, because you shouldn’t have to choose between a dependable office paper and a healthy, protected planet.

Recyclable or Recycled, What are Your Options?

If you think that in order to make a sustainable impact you have to choose between recycled and recyclable paper—that is not the case! Depending on the price, recycled paper products aren’t always a fit for everyone’s budget. Instead, certified virgin papers can be an option and you can still trust that you are part of the sustainable effort. Without papers that contain certified virgin fiber, we would run out of paper within two months. Paper fiber can only be recycled paper five to seven times before it breaks down, becomes too weak and is no longer be recyclable, which means that the purchase and use of certified virgin products is imperative. Yes, we always want to make the best choice for our environment, but recycled products aren’t the only way you can be environmentally responsible with your paper choice. Some organizations prefer that the paper they purchase contains a certain percentage of recycled fiber. When paper with recycled fiber is required by your company, that is when you may want to consider our EarthChoice® 30%, 50% and 100% recycled options to meet those needs while making certified virgin products your personal choice.

Paper is made from a renewable resource, but it must be protected and properly managed. Recycled paper is only part of the solution, but it helps reduce the pressure put on forests and works for our Earth. For more sustainability 101 content like this, subscribe to the Paper Matters Podcast and check out our Partners in Sustainability Series.

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Nicholas Pearson
Marketing Specialist
Meredith Collins
Customer Marketing Manager
John Parke
Customer Marketing Manager
Paige Goff
Vice President of Sustainability
Deborah Corn
Domtar Paper
Roland Basdeo
Graphic Designer
Susan Jones