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In my work and study, I have a lot of printouts - many of which re drafts and redrafts. Is there are a way to recycle printed paper (standard printer paper) without using harsh chemicals and minimal waste?

Both sides are printed on.

  • Note for answerers: there have been a series of PhD students at Cambridge University studying lifting ink off paper, so that the paper can be reused (Tom Counsell and others - have a look in Google Scholar for papers by Tom, and papers that cite his papers) – EnergyNumbers Jul 8 '13 at 12:40
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Most areas do collect paper for recycling. The paper gets chopped up into pulp. Air is introduced and the ink sticks to the air bubbles, which rise to the top. The ink bubbles are then skimmed of the top and the fibres are processed into recycled paper (newspaper, for example). This might be a nice little project, but I doubt anyone has the stamina to make recycled paper at home. The outcome will be pretty, but certainly not printable.

In principle, paper can be composted as well, but the fibres are usually bleached, which already introduces some chemicals into the paper. Most inks also contain harmful chemicals, so composting might not be the best idea. In a sense, composting paper could also be seen to be a waste. It takes a lot to get trees into paper form. Ending the life-cycle of the fibres by composting reduces the availability of recycled paper, and is at least partly responsible for chopping down more trees. (On a side note, greasy paper, like pizza boxes, should be composted, because oil is very hard to remove in the recycling process.)

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    I thought most modern inks were soy-based and not so toxic as those used a few decades ago. Do you have any reliable information or links you can share on that? I'd be interested in learning more. Thanks! – Highly Irregular Jul 8 '13 at 22:30
  • Most? Not sure if there are any numbers, but I guess since the OP is considering recycling paper he printed himself, it'd be enough to find out what his ink/toner manufacturer uses... – Earthliŋ Jul 8 '13 at 23:26
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    Before recycling used paper, it may be helpful to reuse it for folded-paper airflow-dependent anti-gravity devices. These simple creations increase your sustainability primarily by relieving stress and are often referred to as "paper airplanes" ;) – Evan Johnson Jul 9 '13 at 21:47
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    On a more serious note, this fact sheet from the Printers' National Environmental Assistance Center indicates that while soy inks are generally more recycling-friendly than petroleum-based inks, they still often contain petroleum products and other potentially harmful chemicals. Interestingly enough, a few decades ago soy inks were actually very popular due to the oil crisis of the 1970s but lost that popularity for various practical and economic reasons. – Evan Johnson Jul 9 '13 at 21:54

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