Measuring the reduction limit of repeated recycling – a case study of the paper flow system

Pi Cheng Chen, Ming Cheng Chiu, Hwong wen Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Recycling and recovery of materials from used products is one of the major avenues to reduce material throughput. Ideally, all materials are anticipated for being reused by the economy an infinite number of times. In reality, recovery of secondary materials may be difficult because of high costs, or because of degraded quality compared with virgin materials. The search for potential reduction of throughput in material cycles should be based on a knowledge of the limits to repeated cycles. To gain understanding of recycling limits, we developed a method to estimate the actual reduction potential for each throughput in a material's multi-cycle life. First, we investigated the material flow system of paper in Taiwan, and developed a supply chain network of paper flows. Systematic elaboration of the flows revealed where paper can be recycled and where paper can be lost. Second, we estimated the reduction potential with a material input–output Markov chain model, which maps the distribution and loss of materials on the supply chain processes. The model estimated the quantities and the life pathways of recycled materials across continuous life-cycles. An indicator was used to quantify the total performance of the material across repeated life-cycles. This method offers an opportunity to examine practices that approach the limit of reduction. This case study shows that the use and separation of paper waste after discarding may need to be reformed to extend the life-cycles of the material.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-107
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Sept 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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