New Study Questions the Climate Benefits of Recycled Paper (

Recycling of materials is considered to be an important part of a circular economy, but a new study published in Nature Sustainability questions the potential environmental benefits that come from paper recycling.

Recycling paper materials may not be all it’s cracked up to be according to a study conducted by researchers at Yale University and University College London. Published in Nature Sustainability in October 2020, the study points out that the recycling of paper materials in particular could have a negative impact on the climate.

The writers warn that circular economy efforts should carefully consider the energy implications of recycling paper products. They conclude that recycling paper is likely to have a limited climate benefit and a higher climate impact than the production of fresh fibre-based paper.

The main reason is that making recycled paper uses more fossil energy than the production of new paper. Paper recycling uses electricity from the grid or natural gas – energy sources with a high fossil content. Fresh fibre paper can be produced with fossil free energy made from by-products of the wood pulping process.

The report adds that without radical changes to the energy mix used for recycling, fossil fuel emissions will increase. “We need to be careful about assumptions that recycling, or a circular economy in general, will always have a positive effect on climate change,” says one of the report’s writers, Paul Ekins of University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources, in a press release.
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