Can't find paper with the environmental characteristics you need?
Consider having paper made to your own specifications. A number
of mills and brokers offer custom papermaking, and it's more accessible
than you may think. The concept is not new. Conservatree, when it
was a paper company, originally developed the first recycled version
of many paper grades by working with mills to customize papers to
demanding recycled-content specifications. For instance, Conservatree
developed the first recycled 25% cotton laser-compatible letterhead
for Hewlett-Packard by collaborating with Fox River Paper.
Several environmentally sound papers now on the market started
out as custom orders. What may begin as one specifier's search for
"the perfect paper" may ultimately benefit all paper buyers. A paper
by Repap (now owned by Consolidated), for example, was originally
a special making order for National Wildlife magazine. Fraser Papers'
Genesis text and cover line was first a custom letterhead designed
to match the 100% postconsumer packaging created for a major perfume
line. Patagonia custom-ordered a coated free-sheet paper that then
became available to others from Appleton Papers.
One of the long-standing custom paper success stories is an opaque
sheet developed in the early 1980s by Fraser Papers' predecessor,
Cross Pointe. IBM brought custom specifications to the mill for
developing a new paper for its computer manuals. The paper worked
so well that when Cross Pointe decided to take it public in a new
standard line, they bowed to its computer manual origins by naming
it after Hal, the computer in the movie "2001" - resulting in the
now highly popular Halopaque.
Which Grades Are Most Often Customized?
Letterhead, text and cover, and writing grades are the most likely
candidates for customizing. These papers, whether virgin or recycled,
are made in small batches on slower machines than commodity papers.
Text and cover mills are used to frequent batch changes for different
colors, finishes and basis weights. Minimum orders are apt to be
lower for these papers than for others, and prices are likely to
Some coated mills make customized papers for major buyers. The
paper needs of some magazines and catalogs are so large that they
can justify the economics of a special order. For example, International
Paper made a special version of Adirondack for Sierra Magazine,
increasing the postconsumer content from 10% to 15%.
Book papers are opening up to some experimentation. Lyons Falls
worked with three book publishers to develop a book paper that is
10% tree-free and processed chlorine-free.
Commodity mills making white office and printing papers such as
copy and offset are least likely to manufacture non-standard papers.
Since their profit margins are based on continuous production, they
are not usually willing to stop and start the paper machine to run
a new paper. However, for a major customer, it's not out of the
question, although there often is a surcharge. For example, Conservatree
developed the first recycled-content copier paper by convincing
Simpson Paper Company it could win the State of California's multi-million
dollar copier paper contract by taking advantage of the 5% price
preference for recycled paper.
When searching for a mill to increase recycled content in a particular
paper, look for ones that already have a postconsumer content close
to what you want. A mill producing a standard recycled paper with
35% postconsumer content may be more willing to go to 50% postconsumer
than a mill with standard papers no higher than 20% postconsumer.
Steps To Take
How do you go about developing custom paper? Many mills will produce
what they call "special making orders" to customers' specifications,
given enough tonnage and lead-time. Often, but not always, the mill
requires an order of at least 40,000 pounds. Just what does "40,000
pounds" mean? That much paper would produce approximately 87,000
copies of a 96-page self-cover, 8.5 x 11 sales catalog. (Adjusting
for losses for make-ready and spoilage, you could count on about
While you might be looking for paper with customized content, such
as higher recycled content or tree-free or chlorine-free pulp, making
orders also encompass standard grades (including environmental papers)
that customers want in a different basis weight, color or finish.
Mills have different requirements for minimum orders, with commodity
mills usually having quite large minimums and text and cover mills
having much smaller ones. Your search for custom paper is also more
likely to be successful if you can allow a longer lead time.
Some mills have special programs to respond to customers' requests
for non-standard items, and some of these programs have lower minimum
orders. The Geo. A. Whiting mill produces 90% of its text and cover
business from custom orders, primarily matching colors. The mill
produces its Closed Loop brand paper with 50% postconsumer (100%
recycled) for a minimum order of 2000 pounds, with a custom color
match as well.
Crane's Pioneer Mill is experienced in making a wide variety of
papers using alternative fibers, including cotton, kenaf, hemp and
flax, as well as postconsumer materials. Minimum orders are usually
10,000 pounds. Green Field Paper can customize organic cotton paper
with postconsumer content for a minimum order of 4,000 pounds. Vision
Paper can provide its kenaf-fiber paper in custom colors and finishes,
as well as make custom kenaf-fiber corrugated packaging, for a 10,000
pound minimum order.
Fraser Paper's "Close the Loop" program adds customized recycling
to customized paper. Major companies such as Dow Chemical, Canadian
Tire Corporation and AMR (parent of American Airlines) have recycled
their own office paper into new paper for their company's use. Fraser
estimates that 40,000 pounds of high quality office wastepaper will
produce 50,000 32-page annual reports plus collateral pieces. This
amount allows for fiber loss from deinking the wastepaper.
Fox River has a 10,000 pound minimum for custom orders, and has
made some closed-loop arrangements to include a customer's own wastepaper.
Closed loop papers include some that are entirely unique. Under
threat of an eventual shut-down if they don't find an alternative
to open field burning of their agricultural waste, rice farmers
in the Sacramento (CA) area convinced Arbokem, in Alberta, Canada,
to pulp their leftover rice straw. The pulp was then made into newsprint
by Smurfit Newsprint Corp. in Oregon and used successfully by several
California and Oregon newspapers.
Some brokers can also arrange for special order papers. New Leaf
Paper, in New York and San Francisco, takes pride in its ability
to operate as a "micro-brewery" for papers. Dedicated to providing
the most environmentally sound papers, the company vigorously encourages
its customers to push the limits on environmental papers. For example,
it worked with a mill to develop a professional white corporate
letterhead for Bank of America with 80% postconsumer content. The
paper is now available nationwide, with a minimum order of 5,000
pounds. The company has also collaborated with a mill to offer a
custom-blended 100/50 processed chlorine-free (PCF) coated sheet
at competitive prices, with a 40,000 pound minimum.
Who You Gonna Call?
How do you find out if a mill will make the paper you're dreaming
of using? Paper buyers should start with the sales representative
from a local paper distributor. You may also want to talk to the
distributor's merchandiser. As the one who buys paper for the distributor,
the merchandiser has a good understanding of different mills' capabilities
Designers can often start the customizing process by talking with
the spec rep (specifications representative) from either a distributor
or mill. The spec rep, too, knows the papers and their potentials
Some mills welcome customer calls, but others protect their relationships
with distributors. If you're not getting anywhere with your distributor's
sales force, you might call a mill that makes a type of paper similar
to what you want (e.g. coated, copier, text and cover, book) and
get advice from its marketing department on whom to contact either
at the mill or in your area to explore customization possibilities.
Text and cover and commercial papers such as offset and copy are
most often sold through distributors. But other types, such as specialty
papers, groundwood or paperboard, may be sold direct from the mill.
The marketing department will be able to put you in touch with the
If you're looking for a customized converted paper, such as a computer
paper or envelopes, talk to the converter's sales representative.
He or she should pitch your request to the mills that make their
paper for conversion to value-added products and find out whether
any are willing to make paper to your request.
While some buyers have been able to negotiate customized papers
themselves through the distributors and mills, and some customizing
programs are more accessible than others, you might also wish to
leave the research and negotiations to someone else. Paper brokers
such as New Leaf Paper have established relationships with mills
to make it easier to close the sale. They have been around the custom-paper
block many times and can offer that experience and expertise to
Share With Others
If your paper needs are not great enough to convince a mill to
make paper to your specifications, consider joining with other organizations
that would have similar requirements. The Internet makes it easier
for buyers to put the word out to colleagues that they would like
partners in pursuing a customized paper. Professional conferences
can be successful venues for finding people with similar environmental
goals and paper needs. A broker may be able to join requests from
several organizations into one special making order.
Three publishers joined together to make an order large enough
to persuade Lyons Falls to develop the book paper Anthology, using
tree-free and chlorine-free pulps. Several nonprofit organizations
in the San Francisco Bay Area joined together to ship in a large
order of Arbokem's Downtown Paper #3, providing them with processed
chlorine-free office paper that contains both postconsumer and agricultural
residue fibers, at a better price than if they had bought separately.
When you are successful at having a mill develop a cutting-edge
paper, share it with others. Allow the mill to sell the new paper
on the open market, not only as a custom order for you. That way,
you will have done a good turn for the environment not only for
your organization, but for everyone else as well.
The following is a partial list of sources for customized papers.
Many other mills are willing to make special orders, also.
|Commodity (e.g. Offset, Copy)
||local distributor sales rep
|Text and Cover
||Geo. A. Whiting
||800/558-8327 or local distributor sales rep
|Fraser Papers, "Close The Loop"
||local distributor sales rep
||Fraser Papers (e.g. groundwood, specialty, converting,
|Tree-Free (partial or 100%)
||Sam Smith, 413/684-6495
|Green Field Paper
||New Leaf Paper