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How to recycle paper at home

From some simple home care hacks to a fun DIY, our ideas will help you put all that waste paper to good use and finally take the guesswork out of recycling.

Updated

Stack of newspapers outdoors

When it comes to doing our bit for the environment, reducing our consumption is top of the list.

Before chucking out your old magazines, fruit cartons or newspapers, consider how they can be given a new lease of life – recycling paper at home both saves you money (no need to buy window-cleaning cloths when newspapers will do!) and cuts down on the amount of waste bulking out your bin. 

5 easy ways to recycle paper at home

1. Use it as mulch or compost

How concerned are you about disinfecting while cleaning?

Torn up newspaper around plants

Waste paper is a vital ingredient of a healthy compost heap. If you don’t have the space (or time) to build one yourself then you can still recycle paper as mulch. Simply tear it into small strips and place it around your plants.

Recycling paper in this way helps to keep the soil in your garden moist and adds nutrients to it too.

2. Use old newspapers to clean windows

Man wiping wet glass with newspaper

For sparkling windows, nothing beats newspaper, it’s better than any microfibre cloth at getting windows shining and streak-free.

3. Use it as packing material

Use paper packaging and old newspapers to bulk out boxes when packing items to move house, putting items into storage, or sending gifts to friends.

Wrap delicate items in newspaper and scrunch up other items of used paper or cardboard to fill gaps in the box and protect your valuables.

4. Use it as wrapping paper

This is a great way to use old comics, sheet music or even plain brown packaging paper – just add some twine or strip of coloured scrap fabric for a simple, eco-friendly finish. Alternatively, you could get more creative with some clever DIY present wrapping ideas using old paper.

5. Use it as shelf liner or organiser

Place old, clean sheets of newspaper inside cutlery drawers, at the bottom of fruit and veg drawers in your fridge or even in the boot of your car to help absorb odours, moisture and keep things clean.

Clean, dry egg cartons (with the lids off) can also be used as handy drawer organisers, ideal for corralling tiny things like jewelry, thumb tacks or buttons.

How to make recycled paper yourself

Sheets of handmade newspaper

You’re no doubt used to buying envelopes and other stationery that’s made out of recycled paper, but have you ever considered learning how to recycle paper at home? Turns out, it’s an easy and fun DIY project, with the main thing you need being in plentiful supply in the average household.

Making handmade paper is also a great way to teach kids the basics of paper making and how paper gets recycled, as it’s really no different to what happens in paper waste facilities up and down the country.

You will need:

  • A deckle and mold (you can pick these up from craft stores or on Etsy, or make your own using an old picture frame with the glass removed and a sheet of fine window screen or even an old oil splatter guard)
  • A plastic tub (large enough to fit your picture frame in)
  • A sponge
  • An old towel
  • A spatula
  • Scrap fabric the same size as your mould (felt is ideal)
  • Blender (we recommend using an old or second hand one that isn’t used for food)
  • Old paper, torn into small strips (whatever you have handy at home works – from old post to paper kids have drawn or even egg cartons. Coloured craft paper is also great, as it adds pretty flecks of colour to the finished paper. Avoid anything with a glossy surface as it doesn’t absorb water as easily).

Method

Fill your blender with paper and water. You’ll need double as much water as paper (too much is better than too little, but never exceed your blender’s recommended maximum amount).

  1. Blend until the contents are thoroughly pulped and mixed (they should resemble a thick soup).
  2. Place the deckle (that’s the bit with the fine mesh) over the tub, then place your mold on top, lining it up as evenly as possible with the deckle.
  3. Pour your mixture directly onto the deckle as steadily as you can, keeping it within the mold's edges.
  4. Once it’s filled, use a spatula to slowly and carefully smooth out any lumps or bumps.
  5. Layer your fabric on top of the mixture and press down gently with the sponge, helping the water drain away (always press, never drag the sponge to avoid disturbing the mix too much).
  6. Squeeze the sponge out regularly and keep pressing until you no longer hear water draining out.
  7. Transfer your paper onto the fabric and leave it someplace flat to dry (a hot press is ideal) for at least a day. If you have a few pieces of scrap fabric, you can repeat the above steps to create several sheets of paper.

And there you have it! As you practise, you can experiment with adding water-based paint for fun coloured pages or even make pretty DIY flower petal paper by tossing in some dried flower petals after pulping.

How to recycle paper properly

Paper waste in a waste bin

Done all you can with paper around the house? Keep the momentum going by making sure to recycle any paper you’re throwing away properly.

Recycling paper is one of the oldest forms of recycling around, and we encounter recycled paper in lots of everyday products including cardboard, parcel paper, printer paper, food cartons and even greeting cards.

We recycle around 80 per cent of paper in the UK, but if everyone recycled just 10 per cent more it would save approximately five million trees each year.

Not only that, but recycled paper uses 70 per cent less energy and produces up to 73 per cent less pollution than making paper from raw materials.

Make sure it’s clean and dry

As valuable as paper is as recyclable material, this only applies if it’s clean and dry. Anything that has gotten dirty, greasy or wet shouldn’t be put into your paper recycling bin.

Got lots to get rid of? Find your local recycling centre

If you have more paper or cardboard waste than your recycling bin can accommodate, local authorities accept paper in their recycling collections – head to the Recycle Now website and simply enter your postcode for information about your local recycling options.

Learn what paper can and can't be recycled

As a general rule of thumb, check if your paper passes the scrunch test: if you scrunch it up in your hand and it doesn’t spring back, then it usually can be recycled.

Putting the wrong items in your recycling bin will contaminate all of your recyclables so refer to our handy list below if you’re unsure, or check with your local authority.

You can recycle…

  • Newspapers and supplements
  • Magazines and comics
  • Phone books and brochures
  • Letters, note paper, printer or photocopier paper (intact or shredded)
  • Envelopes (even if they have a plastic window)
  • Junk mail (including flyers)
  • Cards (just be sure to remove or tear off any embellishments such as foil, ribbons or glitter, which can’t be recycled)

You can’t recycle…

  • Paper stained with grease, paint, dirt or food stuff (though you could compost some of this at home, see our tips above)
  • Kitchen roll or tissues
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Cotton wool (rounds or pads)
  • Any sticky paper (including labels, paper tape or post-it notes)
  • Foil-based gift wrap
  • Wallpaper
  • Photos

Your paper recycling questions answered

Can I recycle paper with staples or paper clips?

Believe it or not, you can. Staples are removed during the recycling process and won’t affect the quality of the recycled paper, so don’t fret if a stray one or two make it in.

Can I recycle paper that has ink on it?

Whether you like writing by hand or printing things out, most paper with ink can be popped into the recycling bin.

Glue, glitter and other embellishments are a no-no though.

Can wet paper be recycled?

Nope – wet paper breaks down too quickly, making it difficult to recycle. It can even clog up recycling equipment, so definitely avoid putting it in your recycling bin.

Can greeting cards or wrapping paper go in the recycling bin?

Plain cards, free from glitter, foil or other embellishments can go in your recycling bin.

If there is just a little bit of embellishment (say a tiny ribbon), you can tear this off and put it into your regular waste bin, recycling the rest.

Depending on how it’s made, certain kinds of wrapping paper can be recycled, while others are best put to good use around the home (using some of our ideas above).

For more on what types of wrapping paper can and can’t be be put in your bin, read our tips on recycling wrapping paper.

How many times can paper be recycled?

This really comes down to the initial quality of the paper. Good quality paper (like printer paper) has long fibres, which makes it an ideal candidate for recycling.

These fibres get shorter every time the paper goes through the recycling process – it is estimated that things like office paper can be recycled into ‘new’ office paper five to seven times.

However, it’s still useful even after that. When the fibres are too short to make new high quality paper, the pulp is used to make things like newspapers, tissues and food cartons. Neat, right?

Now that you’re up to speed on paper recycling, why not find out what else you can recycle? From recycling glass to creative new uses for plastic bottles, every little thing you can keep out of a landfill helps.

Originally published