Paper recycling is the most eco-efficient waste management option, since the use of recycled fibers reduces the need for virgin wood fiber and lowers energy consumption, and hence has a positive effect on the environment. The use of recycled paper is by far the highest in the packaging industry. In food packaging production, recycled paper is often favored over paper and board made from virgin fibers. However, due to the possible hazardous chemicals that can be found in recycled paper, there is a dilemma of how to overcome food safety issues while making food packaging more circular. The objective of the study was to determine if deinked office paper grades could be used as an alternative fiber source in the production of food packaging white top linerboards. For that purpose, three different types of digitally printed papers were submitted to a chemical deinking flotation in laboratory conditions, and the handsheets formed after each recycling trial were tested on the suitability for direct food contact. Evaluation of deinkability for each group of recycled prints was performed, as well. Deinkability was evaluated by calculating the flotation yield, pulp’s brightness and whiteness increase, ink elimination factor, determination of residual ink area, as well as ash content elimination. Food safety evaluation was performed by determining the content of heavy metals (Cd, Pb, Hg, and Cr VI), primary aromatic amines, diisopropylnaphthalenes (DIPN), phthalates, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) from aqueous or organic solvent extracts of recycled paper pulp. The fastness of the fluorescent whitening agents was determined, as well. Of all evaluated deinking flotation efficiency parameters, only flotation yield and ash reduction by flotation were positively assessed. High content of residual ink particles detected after the flotation stage indicates that the flotation was not a successful method for the elimination of disintegrated ink particles, which was also confirmed by deficient results of ink elimination measurements and whiteness increase. Flotation proved to be the least efficient in the recycling of inkjet prints, where the lowest ink elimination, whiteness, and brightness values were achieved. As far as food safety assessment of deinked pulp is concerned, all tested deinked handsheets were found suitable to be used in direct contact with foods.
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