Paper

Paper is the material with the highest recycling rate in our country. In fact in 2015 the percentage of paper and cardboard packaging material that was recovered amounted to 88,7% and average per capita collection in Italy was assessed at 51.5 kg/inhabitant. Collection is extended to all types of paper, including drawing paper, paper for graphic use, for photocopies and for newspapers, cardboard and paper bags. However soiled paper (like the boxes used for pizza delivery) must not be put in the separate waste collection, as it might pollute and contaminate paper that can be recycled. The consortium of companies that collect and manage this packaging is called Comieco.
Up to the 90s, Italy imported large amounts of raw material from Northern Europe in order to supply the paper industries, while now Italy is an exporter of recycled paper and cardboard. The paper recycling cycle starts with the separation of the different types of paper and cardboard that are brought to the specific plants: packages, discarded cardboard, mixed paper. After being sorted out, the paper is shredded with the help of special machinery, known as a pulper, and it is sifted in water to remove the contaminants, and finally also the glue and ink are eliminated. Subsequently the pulp that is obtained is mixed with raw material. In fact the process weakens the cellulose fibres that form the paper, making them short, and therefore it is necessary to include an additional amount of virgin raw material, so as to obtain the same characteristics of the standard material.
This degradation takes place every time the material is recycled and it has been noted that the maximum number of times that paper can be recycled is 4. Saving, in terms of materials and energy is remarkable. By recycling paper we save 30% energy, 50% water, and 100% material as no trees need to be felled. However the paper whitening process often requires use of chemical compounds, like bleach, that can be particularly polluting for the environment. Lastly, according to Comieco, 1.31 tons of CO2eq are avoided per ton of recycled paper.
Therefore paper recycling has a double advantage for our country. From an economic point of view imports of virgin raw material are decreased, and also the amount of material that is disposed in the dump decreases. From an environmental point of view there is a remarkable saving of energy, water and raw materials.

Sources (in italian):
Cassinelli, N., Del Duro R. La raccolta differenziata dei rifiuti e il riciclo delle materie seconde, FrancoAngeli, 2007
Comieco,  Consorzio Nazionale Recupero e Riciclo degli Imballaggi a base Cellulosica

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