Green Scene: Giving a second life to paper products

As you enter DeKalb County from the east via Interstate 88, you have most likely noticed a pipe sticking out of the ground at the landfill with a flame atop, like a beacon in the night. It is a gas flare, burning off landfill gas, which is a combination of carbon dioxide and methane. This combustible gas is burned off to eliminate the hazard of explosion as well as reduce odor.

Paper in a sanitary landfill can take up to 15 years to break down, and accounts for 28 percent of landfill content, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Through anaerobic decomposition, paper is broken down by naturally-occurring organisms in the soil and methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas, is produced.

Methane has 30 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide. Both gasses are major contributors to the “greenhouse effect” and global warming, which we are experiencing in the U.S. in the form of increasingly severe weather.

One thing we can do as individuals to circumvent this problem is to keep as much paper out of landfills as possible through recycling. Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, two barrels of oil, and 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity — enough energy to power the average American home for five months. Recycling paper generates 74 percent less air pollution and uses 50 percent less water than making it from new material.

It is inevitable that some paper will end up in the landfill, since we cannot recycle such things as used napkins, paper plates, paper towels or tissues. Reusing paper and newspaper for these and other alternative purposes is an option, as is using reusable versions like ceramic plates and cloth napkins.

We spoke with Dale Osterle, a local artist who participated in the UN conference for women in China in 1996. She presented three art pieces which were partially constructed from recycled paper.

“I reuse newspaper in my art both as collage and also as a transfer,” Osterle said.

Dale has put together a list of 50 alternative uses for newspaper. It can be used to clean glass, ripen fruit and line animal cages. You can wrap a gift using the funny pages. Beautiful beads and other crafts can be created. Newspaper can be folded to make seedling flower pots and used in the garden as a weed barrier. You can probably come up with some reuses of your own.

To view the entire list and the artwork of Dale Osterle, visit

GreenScene is written by Renee Kopulos and Linda Yates, members of a citizens group working with the City of DeKalb Citizens Environmental Commission. Contact them at, with “Green Scene” in the subject line. The Citizens Environmental Commission next meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, at 200 S. Fourth St., DeKalb.

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