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Can You Recycle Paper With Ink on It? All About Paper Recycling

Written by Robert S. Brown / Fact checked by Helen B. Harris

can you recycle paper with ink on it

Paper plays a big role in our daily lives. In fact, according to Statista. 408 million tons of paper materials were consumed globally in 2021.

Approximately 4 million tons of that comes from the offices. That alone leaves a tremendous amount of waste paper with ink. Now, the question is, can you recycle paper with ink on it?

Well, Yes. Thanks to Justus Claproth, a German inventor who discovered a way to remove ink from recycled paper pulp. This process is called de-inking.

Are All Paper Recyclable?

A common misconception among users is that all paper material is recyclable. No, they’re not. Let’s take a look at the following types of recyclable paper and other non-recyclable paper materials.

Waste Paper Recyclable? Remarks
With crayon on it NO Crayons are considered irreversible contaminants.
With paint on it NO In the process of painting the paper gets wet which causes damage to the paper fibers.
With writing on it YES Paper with ink be recycled, these and other writings can be removed by deinking process.
With marker on it YES
With highlighter on it YES
With pencil lead on it YES
With staples YES Industrial shredders can segregate staple wires along the process.
With glue on it NO Heavy glue and other adhesives are also considered contaminants.
With lamination NO Paper cannot be separated from the lamination and most of it is usually made with plastics. When this type of paper waste reaches the recycling plant, it will contaminate the process and can cause recycling machine trouble.
Glossy paper YES Recycling glossy paper needs further segregation. Glossy leaflets, catalogs, and magazines are recyclable but glossy paper like gift wrapping paper and fax paper cannot be recycled.
Colored paper YES Mostly recyclable. To check whether to recycle colored paper or not, tear a portion and check the middle part. If it is white then yes, it’s recyclable.
Construction paper YES Use the same method of checking for colored paper before deciding to recycle construction paper.
Shredded paper YES To recycle small pieces of paper, it must be completely dry and contained in a recyclable box. Shred only if needed. Shredding hastens the decomposition process and can be used for composting instead.
Pizza boxes NO These waste contain grease and oil contaminants.

List of Other Paper That Cannot Be Recycled


  • Used paper cups and paper plates
  • Box and cartoons for milk and juices
  • Tisues and Napkins
  • Thermal paper
  • Waxed paper
  • Fax paper
  • Colored paper with bright colors
  • Wetted paper
  • Sticky notes
  • Stickers
  • Paper towels and tissue paper
  • Paper with glitters
  • Paper with foam

These types of paper, though some carry a recyclable symbol like coffee cups and juice boxes, should not be dumped into the recycling bins.

They are made of laminated paper to make them water resistant and suitable for their application. However, removing laminations is difficult and impractical.

These paper materials will only end up as contaminants and will make sorting and recycling more labor intensive. It might also damage the recycling machine and cause delays in the recycling operation.

Other Options To Reduce the Use of Non-Recyclable Paper Materials

  • Choose paper cups that use biodegradable coatings or bring your own collapsible mugs.
  • Bring your own utensils.
  • Use cloth towels instead of paper towels.
  • Go for reusable cloth napkins and diapers.
  • Go paperless and switch to digital options.
  • Use matte gift wrapping paper and paper bags.
  • Practice composting at home.
  • Go for more sustainable packaging like glass or metal.
  • Reuse bright-colored paper for other school projects

A single person can consume up to 680 pounds of paper per year but only 68% of it is being recycled mainly because of contamination and improper handling.

Segregation is a crucial step in recycling. The process of making paper out of recycled materials is pretty straightforward but the segregation process makes it complicated.

Our responsibility is not simply putting the waste paper in the recycling bin. Part of our job as consumers is to segregate our waste properly before dumping anything.


What does paper get recycled into?

No paper is ever wasted. Used paper that undergoes proper treatment and sterilization is widely recycled and converted into:

  • Disposable coffee filters, egg trays, paper plates, bowls, and cups
  • Napkins, diapers, paper towels, and other toiletry paper
  • Office paper, stationeries, newspapers, and magazines

After a couple of recycling, they can be recycled again to produce:

  • Packing material such as paper bags, shoe boxes, and pizza boxes.
  • Cardboards and paperboards.

Not only that, did you know that recycled paper can also be used to manufacture construction materials like:

  • Papercrete, plasterboard, and hybrid adobe
  • Insulating material, paper composites, and building blocks

How many times can paper be recycled?

Like other recycling methods, paper recycling has its own limitations. Used paper that is still of good quality can be recycled 5 times up to 7 times.

Every time paper is recycled, approximately 2% of the fibers are lost. Throughout the process, fibers go shorter until they are no longer fit for producing new paper.

However, it can still be used but new fibers or virgin pulp are added to continue the cycle of producing a good quality paper.

It can also be used to produce paper products with a lower paper quality requirement such as egg trays and newspapers.

Where can I take paper to be recycled?

The collected recyclable paper can be brought to the city or municipal MRF(Material Recovery Facility) for proper treatment.

In the US, locals can drop their recyclables at the curbside paper recycling area. If this is not available, search the nearest recycling center or get other recycling solutions at Earth 911’s.

Or check the World Organizations site where you can find a database of the top 100 recycling sites worldwide.

Large amounts of waste paper from industries such as packaging materials, corrugated boxes, and others can either be sold or sent to private paper recycling facilities and waste management companies.

How does recycling paper help the environment?

It helps the environment in many ways. The recycling process saves huge amounts of resources. Each ton of paper being recycled saves:

  • 7000 gallons of water
  • Energy equivalent to 322 gallons of gasoline
  • 3 cu. yd of landfill space
  • Up to 17 trees

It has been found to help improve air and water quality by:

  • Reducing gas emissions up to 74%
  • Preventing 35% of emissions that can cause water pollution

Paper recycling does not only help save the environment and improve our quality of living, it also provides an additional source of income and continues to create new job opportunities.

What Are the 4 Basic Types of De-inking Processes or Stages

1. De-inking by Floatation 

This is one of the paper recycling industry’s oldest and most commonly used technologies. Ink is removed by soaking the pulp with water and drinking agents.

De-inking agent’s job is to lose the ink from the pulp by reducing surface tension. Upon introducing air, bubbles are formed, and the loosened ink slowly floats together, creating a froth.

The froth is then collected before the pulp goes to the next process.

2. De-inking with Bleach

This method is used to produce good-quality graphic materials from recycled paper. Sodium Hydrosulfite and Hydrogen Peroxide are some active bleaching agents used for this process.

It bleaches away ink stains from the paper pulp and makes the resulting paper product whiter.

3. De-inking with Enzymes

The enzymatic method is usually utilized to boost the de-inking floatation process. This method can be used to replace bleach de-inking.

4. De-inking by Washing


Washing is used for the production of hygiene or toiletry papers. This process can remove mineral fillers that improve the quality of the paper pulp with minimal ink.

This method is not that effective when used alone. It is usually used in combination with other de-inking methods to achieve a higher yield.

Before the de-inking process, the recycled paper must first be sorted, shredded, pulped, and screened. After de-inking-, the paper pulp is then pressed into the rollers until it’s completely dried.

Once dried, the paper is now ready to be cut and sized according to the desired use.


Can you recycle paper with ink on it is not a hard question to address. There’s no doubt you can recycle paper that has been written on as long as it’s suitable for deinking.

A quick reminder, not all paper material is recyclable. Not just because it’s made of paper it automatically makes it qualified for recycling and recyclable symbols are not always accurate.

Now that you are more aware of that. Be mindful before dropping anything in the recycling bin. Let us do our part diligently, do proper segregation, and make recycling easy.

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