Uncommon Knowledge: How many times can you recycle a piece of paper?

Theoretically, a single paper fiber could survive the recycling process 20, 30, even 100 rounds, but the odds suggest that a strand only has about 5 lives. At the recycling plant, paper is heated and chopped into tiny bits to make pulp. During that process, the long fibers that make up virgin paper have about a 20% chance of being sliced into a fragment that’s too small to be reconstituted into top-quality sheets. Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the road for these subpar strands. Since paper quality declines after each recycling, there is a hierarchy that paper descends on its way to retirement. As they age, previously recycled sheets are typically transformed into something less distinguished, but still useful, like cereal boxes, milk cartons, or toilet paper.

Want an easy way to extend the life of that humble sheet of paper? Just remember to flip to the back!

Paper-Made Letter Opener, $45

Written by Stephanie

Stephanie is a vagabond copywriter and design critic who has contributed work to some top-notch institutions, retailers, and publications, most recently The New York Times, MoMA, New York Magazine, the New Museum, and UncommonGoods—of course! When not pun-slinging and agonizing over picayune grammatical quandaries, she can be found sipping bourbon in Brooklyn with her husband and trying (unsuccessfully) to walk her very stubborn bagle hound, Ginger.

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