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How many times can a piece of paper be recycled?

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The recycling logo "“ those three arrows going around in an endless loop "“ is lying to you. While glass and plastic can be recycled indefinitely (at least in theory for plastic, which is usually "upcycled" or "downcycled" into products that can't be recycled), paper only gets so many go-rounds through the circle of life.

On trash day, the paper in our recycling bins goes to a recycling center and then a paper mill, where it's put into vat called a pulper. The pulper, which also contains water and some chemicals, is essentially a giant blender and shreds the recovered paper into small pieces. The paper-liquid mixture is then heated so the paper breaks down into little fibers. The resulting mush is called pulp.

Contaminants are removed from the pulp by cleaning and screening. The pulp is cleaned in a spinning cone-shaped cylinder that separates heavy contaminants like staples. Screening is exactly what it sounds like. The pulp is forced through various screens to remove smaller contaminants like bits of glue.

Some recovered paper is de-inked, and some is not. De-inking can be done in two ways: washing or flotation. During washing, chemicals are added to the pulp to separate the ink from the paper fibers. The pulp is then rinsed with water and the ink is washed away. In the flotation method, the pulp is put in another water-filled vat called a flotation cell. Surfactants are used to loosen the ink from the pulp, and air is passed through the cell. The air bubbles float the ink to the top of the mixture and the resulting froth skimmed off the top.

The pulp is then beaten to separate large clumps of fibers and make the fibers swell so they're better suited for papermaking. At this point, if white recycled paper is being made, the pulp is also bleached to make it bright white (if brown recycled paper is being made, say, for industrial paper towels, the pulp doesn't get bleached).

To make the pulp back into paper, the recycled fibers are blended with new wood fiber (virgin fiber) to give it extra strength and mixed with water. A paper machine sprays the watery pulp in a wide jet onto a wire screen conveyor belt. As the pulp travels on the belt, water drains through the screen and the paper fibers begin to bond together. A series of press rollers squeeze out more water and heated metal rollers dry the paper, which, now finished, is wound into a roll that can be cut into smaller rolls or sheets.

Phew. As you can see, paper goes through quite a bit of abuse during the recycling process and each time recovered paper goes through the whole song and dance the individual wood fibers become shorter and more brittle and lose their strength. Paper industry folks say that the average paper fiber can survive recycling six to eight times before its short enough to slip away during the screening process.

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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