YOUR ROLE AS CONSUMER
Recycling addresses "how" a product may be produced in a more environmentally
sound process than its virgin counterpart. But it is not designed
to answer the even more important question, "Why?" Source reduction,
or waste prevention, should come before any purchase. Buyers should
rethink, Why is the product needed? Are there ways to eliminate
the need for this product? Could better use of computers, or double-sided
copying, or two-way envelopes meet the need instead without requiring
a purchase? Reducing resource demand at the source is the foremost
conserver of resources because it doesn't require them at all.
Putting source reduction together with recycling, or asking Why
and then How, is a more powerful combination for environmental soundness
than either alone. There are dozens of ways buyers can reduce their
paper use and yet not threaten the quality of their enterprise.
For example, Alameda County (in the San Francisco Bay Area) eliminated
the cost of printing new letterhead by switching to the use of templates
in its word processing program. Now staff simply type their letters
and memos on the appropriate computer template and print them out
with an always-up-to-date letterhead design, which can be customized
for every office. Federal Express (Memphis, TN) reduced paper use,
inventory, warehouse and handling costs by using a two-way envelope
rather than an outbound and return envelope for its millions of
bills a year. Many Pacific Gas & Electric Company (northern California)
offices programmed their copiers to default to double-sided copying
and save substantially on paper costs. Users can manually choose
single-sided copying if they truly need that option.
A number of state and local governments now offer reports on disk
to users who welcome that alternative rather than stacks of printed
paper. Some courts around the country are now requiring double-sided
copying for briefs filed in their systems. And all sorts of offices
are reusing paper by printing internal drafts on the blank side
of no-longer-needed copies, or cutting up used paper for note and
telephone message pads.
HOW TO BUY
Of course, source reduction doesn't eliminate the need for paper.
It simply ensures that paper purchases are the most efficient and
effective way to meet a specific need. The choices you make as buyer
affect the choices that paper mills eventually make as investors
in new technology and processes. So how does a buyer make the most
environmentally sound choice?
First of all, consider the decision points outlined here and then
choose the best combination of paper contents that respond to your
environmental concerns, balanced by your economic realities. Choose
paper whenever possible that is bleached by TCF or PCF processes.
And buy real recycled paper. Knowing the paper's recycled content
is crucial to choosing the most environmentally sound recycled papers.
To do that, one must rely on definitions, standards, and labeling.
Clear, strong definitions in specifications are essential to be
sure you get what you expect. Define the terms you use in bids,
contracts, and phone quotes. You also need to know what others mean
by the terms they use. Because there is not absolute agreement on
recycling terms, others may use the same terms that you do, but
have a different meaning. Ask for their definition and, if it's
still not clear, ask for examples of materials that qualify under
their definition. Distributors may not know the specific types of
recycled content in a paper or may be under misconceptions themselves.
To be certain, go to the manufacturer and, if necessary, have specifics
written on company letterhead.
Among the most critical definitions are:
- Postconsumer material/fiber: Those end products generated
by consumers that have been separated or diverted from the solid
- Consumer: Any person, government agency or other entity
which uses goods for its own needs, and not for resale or for
manufacture of other goods.
- Recovered material/fiber: Paper materials, excluding
mill broke, that have been separated, diverted, or removed from
the solid waste stream for the purpose of use, reuse or recycling.
- Totally chlorine free (TCF): Virgin paper that is unbleached
or processed with a sequence that includes no chlorine or chlorine
- Processed chlorine free (PCF): Recycled paper in which
the recycled content is unbleached or bleached without chlorine
or chlorine derivatives. Any virgin material portion of the paper
must be TCF. Must contain at least 30% postconsumer content.
These definitions and many more are discussed in greater detail
in Recycled Content Definitions and Chlorine Free Paper Terms.
The percentage of recycled content, particularly postconsumer content,
in a paper makes the difference between one that "gets by" as recycled
and one that truly fulfills its potential for environmental conservation.
The White House issued an Executive Order in 1993 that decreed,
along with a subsequent amendment, that the federal government will
buy recycled printing and writing paper with a minimum of 20% postconsumer
content, increasing to 30% in 1999. Many federal agencies, including
its purchasing agency, the General Services Administration (GSA),
as well as the Government Printing Office (GPO) seriously lagged
in implementing the mandatory order. Nevertheless, many states,
businesses and organizations joined the federal government in adopting
the 20% standard.
The level of 20% was originally chosen to encourage supermills,
which make most of the virgin copy and offset papers, to get into
recycling. If recycled paper were made on the same size paper machines,
it would benefit from the same economies of scale and prices would
But 20% is a very low recycled content. The other 80% of the paper
can be virgin fiber. Many printing and writing papers are produced
with higher postconsumer contents, some up to 100%. It is important
for buyers to encourage mills to keep increasing the amount of postconsumer
contents in their papers, rather than settling for 20%. While the
Executive Order does provide for the standards to rise to 30% by
1999, it does not reward recycled papers that do better.
The postconsumer content "floor" is not supposed to become a "ceiling."
Rather, it is important to reward mills that expand the capacity
for fine papers to use recycled content. A recovered paper requirement,
in addition to a postconsumer floor (such as 50 recovered/20 postconsumer),
can encourage mills to include more postconsumer content when preconsumer
material becomes more scarce. It does not require preconsumer material
to meet its standard (all 50% can be postconsumer) but allows mills
to choose what kind of recycled content to include for the portion
beyond the minimum postconsumer requirements. This can effectively
increase the overall consumption of postconsumer material, while
giving mills flexibility.
Without accurate labeling of recycled content, consumers don't
know whether the paper they're buying contains postconsumer content
from curbside or office collection programs or is simply made from
paper mill scraps. Unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),
which regulates deceptive advertising, has not been very helpful
on this issue. It did issue guidelines in 1993 which eliminated
the most egregious misuse of the term "recycled." But it still does
not require that manufacturers include postconsumer content in products
labeled as "recycled" or even list the contents that are in the
The chasing arrows recycling symbol was designed by a University
of California student, Gary Anderson, in a national competition
for the Recycled Paperboard Division of the American Paper Institute
(now the American Forest & Paper Association, AF&PA). It was adopted
in 1970 as a public relations tool for the paperboard industry,
which had a long history of using recycled paper. This symbol is
in the public domain, which means that anyone can use it. In recent
years, the symbol has been used on some labels to mean recycled
content and on others to mean "recyclable." (Since for many products
and packages there may be no collection systems available in some
parts of the country, the designation as "recyclable" may be meaningless
at best, if not deceptive.) AF&PA recommends that labels using the
chasing-arrows symbol to indicate "recycled" always carry an indication
of the recycled content next to it, but not all labels do that.
Without a specific statement of recovered and postconsumer content,
there is no guarantee that paper products displaying the symbol
contain any recycled content at all.
DESIGN FOR RECYCLABILITY
Business and government purchasers drive the environmentally sound
paper system by specifying recycled, tree-free and chlorine-free
papers. This, in turn, encourages paper mills to invest in the technology
to provide those papers.
In order to produce high quality recycled papers, mills must receive
good quality scrap paper to recycle. Purchasers affect the quality
of the recovered paper system, as well, by their specifications
For example, choose papers that are compatible with your recycling
collection system so that when consumers are finished with them,
they will be able to recycle them. Virtually all paper is technically
recyclable, but not all deinking facilities are set up to take all
kinds of paper. Therefore, the types of paper acceptable in your
recycling system will vary by geographic location and the local
Some office collection systems do not accept groundwood papers.
Others cannot take goldenrod colored paper. Some papers are virtually
unrecyclable in any system, particularly papers with ultraviolet
coatings, fluorescent ink, and metallic coatings like holograms.
In addition, a few of the older deinking facilities, designed to
deal with printed material, still have problems with plastic toners
and, as a result, papers with laser and copier toners on them may
not be considered desirable for recycling in some areas.
Coated papers, which can be up to 50% non-paper material (usually
a polished clay surface layer) are recyclable, but not many facilities
currently accept them. This is usually not due to technical problems
but rather because the fiber yield from coated papers is so low.
However, the newer newsprint deinking facilities actually require
a mix of 30% coated papers and 70% newsprint. (The clay assists
in the deinking process.)
The biggest problem deinking facilities have with paper collected
from curbside and office collection programs is contamination and
lack of proper sorting. Contaminants, like plastic windows in envelopes,
glues, labels and other non-paper materials, make deinking much
more difficult. If the level of contamination is too high, the paper
cannot be reused at all.
In addition, in order to deink paper, it must be sorted into relatively
homogeneous categories. Mills don't accept newsprint mixed with
white paper, brown bags with coated paper, or packaging with printing
and writing paper. Collection programs can handle this problem in
one of two ways. Either the collection program is set up to keep
the various kinds of paper separate, or the material is collected
and then sorted. The most economic, and efficient, method is to
"source-separate" before collection.
Choose the Right Ink
Writing inks have been around for almost 4,500 years. The first
inks, made with lampblack (soot), a binder and water, appeared in
Egypt and China around 2,500 B.C. With the advent of metal type
in the Middle Ages, a new oil-based ink was developed. The first
colored inks didn't show up until the printing of the Mainz Psalter
in 1457 in Germany, when blues and reds were first used. The use
of colored inks was not widespread until the 19th century, due primarily
to a shortage of raw materials for pigment.
Inks have three major elements: pigment, vehicle and binder. The
pigment carries the color, the vehicle (or base) is a liquid that
holds the pigment and allows it to be applied, and the binder attaches
the pigment to the paper or object being printed. Most environmental
problems stem from the pigment, which often contains heavy metals,
and the vehicle, which often uses petroleum.
The majority of all commercial inks use petroleum, a non-renewable
resource, as a vehicle. Vegetable oil-based inks such as soybean,
linseed, corn, cottonseed, canola, China wood and rosin are widely
available and more environmentally sound, as well as easier to deink.
Ask for vegetable-based inks and be sure that the one used has a
high percentage of vegetable oil. Some replace only a small percentage
of the petroleum and are little better than the petroleum-based
Environmentally toxic metals are commonly used to make pigments.
Fluorescent and metallic inks are almost always made with these
metal pigments and should be avoided. But many traditional colors
contain metal compounds, too. Environmentally conscious printers
and customers can greatly reduce their toxicity by using environmentally
benign pigments whenever possible.
Inks can create environmental problems when used paper is landfilled because the heavy metals can eventually leach into the groundwater, even in lined landfills. When paper is incinerated, the remaining toxic ash, which includes the heavy metals, must then be landfilled, leading to the same potential groundwater problems. Recycling paper is the most environmentally sound method of handling potential problems, such as from heavy metals, because the inks can be skimmed from the deinking vat while the paper's fibers are reused. If the skimmed ink and other contaminants test as hazardous, they can be handled in an environmentally safe manner and as a much smaller volume of material than if they had remained on paper or in incinerator ash scattered throughout a landfill.
This Green Paper has focused primarily on the role played by major
paper purchasers and policymakers on continuing to create the demand
for environmentally sound papers. But individuals, too, can have
an impact. Organization staff members and even the general public
can add to the pressure for more environmentally sound papers by
implementing the following recommendations for influencing the largest
- Magazines and Newsletters: Threaten to cancel subscriptions
to publications not printed on environmentally sound paper (ESP).
On average, a magazine (e.g. Newsweek) weighing eight ounces will
cost just four cents per copy more to print on ESP. If only 5%
of subscribers (threaten to) drop their subscriptions because
the publication is not printed on ESP, publishers would find it
more profitable to switch to recycled paper.
- Catalogs: Buy products only from catalogs printed on
ESP. If an average catalog costs four cents per copy more to print,
and catalog producers average $2 in gross profit per copy, buyers
would create an incentive to print the catalog on recycled paper
if just 5% of their purchasers switched to companies promoting
their products on ESP.
- Direct Mail Solicitations: Contribute only to organizations
that use ESP. Even if ESP is 10% more expensive than virgin paper,
it would add only $2 per thousand to the cost of a typical direct
mail package. If just 2% of those who would normally respond (or
1/100 of 1% of those mailed to) withheld their contribution, it
would be beneficial for the organization to use ESP!
- Print Shops: Frequent print shops that offer ESP at no
additional cost. Even if the print shop pays 10% more for ESP,
the extra cost per copy should be only 4/100 of one cent! Some
quick print chains already charge no extra premium for printing
We are at a fortunate time in the development of environmentally
sound papers. Several new high grade deinking pulp mills have opened
or are in the development process, enlarging the potential for recycled
paper production. Technological breakthroughs have solved problems
with processing many contaminants such as toners. Several producers
and distributors are strongly dedicated to providing kenaf and hemp
papers. One U.S. kraft pulp mill is producing TCF virgin market
pulp, and several mills and distributors are providing TCF or PCF
papers. In addition, paper mills have dramatically reduced the amounts
of water and energy they use and the pollution they produce compared
to even fifteen years ago.
But there is still much more to do. We cannot stress enough that
purchasing agents are the key to making the shift from a 19th-century
industrial development/environment-be-damned model of papermaking
to a resource-conservative, minimal-impact 21st-century system.
Among the next steps are:
- Source reduction (waste prevention) must become the first focus
in all procurement decisions.
- Buyers, specifiers and advocates must keep up the demand for
recycled paper with high postconsumer content so that mills will
continue to invest to produce the paper.
- The Federal Trade Commission should redefine "recycled" in its
environmental labeling guidelines to specify inclusion of postconsumer
content and should require a listing of the recovered and postconsumer
content on each label.
- Businesses and corporations should make recycled paper the paper
of choice for all uses.
- Publishers and direct mail houses should use recycled paper
for all their needs as a matter of course. Many of them are in
a position to have recycled papers custom-created for their needs,
thereby making new papers available to the whole marketplace as
- Federal agencies should get serious about implementing the Executive
Order's mandates. They should be using and stocking only recycled
paper that meets the Executive Order's minimums.
- EPA should require TCF as Best Available Technology in its cluster
rules and give strong incentives to converting to closed-loop
- All new paper mills should incorporate TCF technology.
- New pulp mills, and old mills as they are re-tooled, should
include structures which allow them to incorporate tree-free fibers.
- Some mills, whether new or converted, should be dedicated to
pulp tree-free and agricultural residue fibers.
- Production mills should develop papermaking processes that replace
some of the wood-pulp in their papers with tree-free and recycled
- Industrial hemp should be decriminalized so it can be grown
in the U.S. as a commercial crop.
- Large, traditional distributors should stock tree-free and chlorine-free
papers so that they become more available.
- Corporations should commit to buying at least a small percentage
of their paper as tree-free each year.
- Federal and state tax and subsidy systems should be revised
to favor resource conservation and environmental quality and sustainability,
rather than resource depletion.
Paul Hawken, in his book The Ecology of Commerce, quotes from the
futurist Willis Harmon, "Business has become, in the last century,
the most powerful institution on the planet. The dominant institution
in any society needs to take responsibility for the whole. Every
decision that is made, every action taken has to be viewed in the
light of, in the context of, that kind of responsibility." Hawken
follows that up with, "Business is the only mechanism on the planet
today powerful enough to produce the changes necessary to reverse
global environmental and social degradation. Doing that will depend
in large part on the willingness of customers to change what they
buy, how they buy, and from whom they buy their products and services."
All of us have responsibility for shaping the future. Our consumption
choices form a significant part of that responsibility. Paper is
one of the most ubiquitous purchases in our economy. Choices in
buying something so simple can mean so much for our own quality
of life and for future generations.