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The history of paper and recycling

The history of paper dates back almost 2,000 years to when inventors in China first created cloth sheets to record their drawings and writings. Before then, people communicated through pictures and symbols etched on stone, bones, cave walls or clay tablets.

Paper as we know it today was first made in Lei-Yang, China in 400 AD. The first European paper mill was built in Spain, and soon, paper was being made at mills all across Europe. In 1690, the first U.S. paper mill was built in Pennsylvania.

At first, American paper mills used the Chinese method of shredding old rags and clothes into individual fibers to make paper. As the demand for paper grew, the mills changed to using fiber from trees instead because wood was less expensive and more abundant than cloth. Today, most of the trees that are used to make paper are grown on working forests and harvested like a crop — specifically for making paper.

Paper mills also use recycled paper, as well as wood chips and sawdust left over from lumber operations to make new paper. Today, much of the paper we use is made with fibers from recycled paper. Recycling has always been a part of papermaking. When you recycle your used paper, paper mills will use it to make new newspapers, notebook paper, paper grocery bags, corrugated boxes, envelopes, magazines, cartons and other paper products.

Amazing facts about paper recycling

  • Americans recycle much more paper than we send to landfills.

  • Most of an average household's waste — including paper, paper grocery bags, corrugated boxes, cans and bottles — can be recycled.

  • 84% of all Americans are recycling used paper at curbside or recycling drop-off sites.

  • Nearly 45% of all paper Americans use is recovered for recycling. America's forest and paper companies are committed to reusing 50% of all paper Americans use.

  • 45 Million tons of paper were recovered in the U.S. in 1998 — an average of 336 pounds per person.

  • Enough paper is collected for recycling each year to fill a boxcar train 7,600 miles long.

  • In the U.S., more than 1/3 of the fiber used to make new paper products comes from recycled paper.

  • Kids are helping get recycling programs started. They visit town halls, make speeches, write letters and get things done!



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