Recycling benefit

Amount recycled
CO2 avoided
Estimated disposal saving
Reported as exported

Paper and cardboard are some of the most valuable recyclable materials in the UK. Around eight million tonnes of paper and cardboard is recovered in the UK every year – half of which is sent to UK paper mills for recycling, while the other half is exported.

Despite its recyclability, the average UK family still throws away six trees worth of paper in their rubbish bin every year, when each tonne of recycled paper saves the equivalent of 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, 3m³ of landfill space, 4,000 kwh of energy and 7,000 gallons of water.

Waste paper is recycled through a shredding and pulping process to turn it back into different grades of paper. Issues with paper recycling largely concern removing contaminants and the wrong kind of paper from the waste stream: paper which includes non-paper additives, such as wrapping paper or gummed paper, is often too poor a quality to be recycled.

Cardboard undergoes a similar recycling process to paper, but must remain separate from the paper stream to avoid brown marks on the new paper.

You can learn more about how to recycle paper and cardboard on the Wales Recycles website.

Recycling process

Cardboard and Paper
How is it recycled?
Cardboard/Paper is separated from other materials

Cardboard/Paper is separated from other materials, if necessary

Cardboard/Paper sorted and graded into different categories

It’s sorted and graded into different categories. Cardboard is sent to a mill to be recycled. High quality paper is sent to a paper mill

Cardboard/Paper is pulped inside a tank

Cardboard/Paper is pulped inside a tank containing water and chemicals, which separates the ‘fibres’

Fibres are screened

Fibres are screened to filter out labels and glass, metal, plastic or adhesive elements. It’s cleaned by being spun in a cone-shaped container

Colouring agents are added if needed

Colouring agents are added if needed and the pulp mixture is pumped onto a paper machine

Sprayed onto a fast-moving mesh surface

It’s sprayed onto a fast-moving mesh surface, which forms a sheet and removes much of the water

Pressed to remove more water

It’s pressed to remove more water and passed through large, heated rollers, until it has the correct moisture content and thickness levels

Wound onto huge rolls

Once dry, it’s wound onto huge rolls

Rolls are divided into smaller reels

Cardboard: The rolls are divided into smaller reels, packed and stored until they’re sent to a ‘packaging converter’ to create new cardboard packaging items, such as cardboard boxes

Paper: The rolls are divided into smaller reels, packed and stored until they’re sent to create new products, such as:
• newspapers
• writing paper

Recycling process: Paper
Recycling process: Cardboard

Where does paper recycling go?

Top countries (selected materials) - 2022/23

Top UK recycling destinations

Country Tonnes
England 66,407t
Wales 4,083t
Scotland 64t
Company Country Tonnes
DS Smith England 15,090t
Palm Paper Ltd England 13,742t
SAICA Paper UK Ltd England 10,861t
Romiley Board Mill England 10,338t
Smurfit Kappa England 7,750t
Datashredders England 2,791t
Saddlebow Paper Mill England 1,907t
UPM Kymmene Ltd Wales 1,309t
Kimberly-Clark Ltd Wales 1,288t
Preston Board and Packaging Ltd England 986t
Parry and Evans Ltd Wales 620t
Northwood Recycling Ltd England 609t

Top world recycling destinations

Company Country Tonnes
unspecified unspecified 9,847t
Alpet Geri Donusum Sanayi VE Turkey 7,052t
Van Gelder Papier Groep BV Netherlands 4,271t
unspecified Germany 3,566t
Best Eternity Recycle Technology Sdn Bhd Malaysia 1,589t
unspecified India 1,504t
unspecified Malaysia 1,497t
DS Smith Germany 1,455t
PT Indah Kiat Pulp and Paper Indonesia 1,395t
Mondi Swiecie SA Poland 1,195t
Siam Kraft Industry Co Ltd Thailand 1,145t
Baudelet Environnement France 1,130t