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You might think that something as commonplace as paper would be simple and easy to buy. And it's true that buying paper in small quantities can be a simple retail transaction. But buying paper in large quantities, or as a well-informed consumer, is a lot more like buying a car than like buying groceries. The more that you know about how the paper is made, what the terms mean, and how the industry operates, the better equipped you'll be to get the environmental papers you want, help develop the markets for these papers so they become even more available and cost-effective, and advance benefits to the environment.

In this section, you can learn more about paper and the paper industry, as well as about the related environmental issues and what you can do help.


  • The history of paper is fascinating. If it weren't for paper, there's a good chance you wouldn't know how to read, history would only be as reliable as the memories of storytellers, the printing press would have been an odd and marginal contraption, there would be little chance of your taking up drawing as an artist, and we wouldn't have developed the technology and economic systems we have today. A checkered history? Perhaps. But a surprising number of the developments that led to the society we live in now could not have happened without the development of paper.

  • How is paper made? We provide a brief description, then link you to fascinating on-line paper museums. You'll want to know how the pulp is made, too, from which the paper is made, and whether recycled pulp creates any environmental problems.

  • How does the paper industry work? How is paper distributed? What do the different paper industry terms mean in the articles you read?

  • What definitions should you use to specify different kinds of environmental papers? What content standards should they meet to "qualify"? How are they labeled? Are there programs to certify that they are what their manufacturers claim them to be?

  • What are the answers to Frequently Asked Questions?


  • What is this whole field of environmental papers about, anyway? It seems there's always some new angle - is it just one issue after another, or do they fit together into a bigger picture? Read our overview of the essential issues. Soon we'll be following it up with a vision for the future.

  • Sometimes the less said, the clearer the picture. Look at our brief At A Glance overview. Statistics are always developing, changing as more insights are gained, deepening our understanding, uncovering new points, making the issues graphic.

  • Environmental papers started with recycled paper, which grew out of solid waste concerns in the 1970s and 1980s. Solid waste is still a central factor in understanding this field. Does it matter if we bury all our trash? Why not just incinerate it all and get some energy, to boot? Did you realize that our federal and state governments, as well as corporate structures and cultural attitudes, create powerful incentives to waste instead of conserve our resources?

    Today, more and more communities are converting their recycling programs to single stream collection and processing. Their residents and businesses are told to not bother sorting, just throw everything together and let the processors sort all the materials back out. But many recycled product manufacturers say this is creating nightmares at their mills. See our reports and "walk through" our Roundtable meeting that brought California recyclers together to start developing solutions to the problems. We're working on a Single Stream Best Practices Manual that we expect to have available by the end of 2005.


  • Think you know all about environmental paper issues? Take our Pop Quiz and find out.

  • Throughout this site, we Explode the Myths on many different topics. Here's where they're all organized, so you can be sure you haven't missed any.

  • We're constantly getting new questions, or old ones we haven't answered well enough or that need to be revisited. Unfortunately, we don't have the resources to answer everyone directly who contacts us. But we will make every effort to answer the question and put it up in our Recently Asked Questions.


There are so many things you can do to encourage the development of environmental papers and the conversion of the paper industry to a more resource-protective model.

  • Find out how even individuals can make a difference.

  • Companies can increase their environmental purchasing clout by joining organizations dedicated to strengthening and expanding the markets.

  • Different aspects of the paper issues call for different approaches. Who's doing what, and how can you help?
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