Mixed paper is a main source of confusion. According to the city web site, mixed paper includes “newspaper, magazines, mail, phone books, food boxes and more.” Apparently “more” includes catalogs, junk mail, advertising inserts, telephone books, food boxes (like cereal and cracker boxes), computer paper, fliers, and soda cartons.
Does this sound like any and all paper? Yes but according to Conservatree, “Most paper manufacturers say that the quality of the fiber materials they’re getting from single stream systems is problematic.” Recycling Today agrees. Treehugger notes that papers printed using an inkjet printer can ruin batches of recovered fibers. In the past, it was difficult to remove laser ink from paper without damaging the fibers although the process improved, so hopefully time will improve the recyclability of paper printed with inkjet printers. Unfortunately ink is becoming harder to remove as plastics are added to inks. The lesson: print less, which saves money, paper, trees, problematic inks, and recycling costs.
I called the Streets Departments’ customer service hotline to ask specific questions about recycling paper. Office paper is fine and there’s no need to remove the staples. Include envelopes with little plastic windows. Shredded paper qualifies (matching the types previously discussed) but you should put it in the bottom of your recycling container below heavier objects so it doesn’t blow all over the neighborhood. Pizza boxes are not okay because oil from the pizza can sink into the cardboard. Tin and aluminum foil are not paper–they are trash. Because recycling can be mixed together, there’s no need to put your newspapers in a paper grocery bag. It should be be placed into the sturdy container with your other recyclables.
So we really need to be careful to sort our paper properly. Careful sorting improves Philadelphia’s fiber content and raises the recycling rate. Keep out food-stained products. Include nearly everything else.