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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 be competitive.

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 83,000 copies.)

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 and programs.

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 in-depth.

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 right person.

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 buyers.

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.

Paper type Mill Contact
Book Lyons Falls 800/648-4458
Coated Appleton 800/592-2001
International Paper 901/763-6000
Commodity (e.g. Offset, Copy) Fraser Papers local distributor sales rep
Fort James 800/854-5345 x15
Text and Cover Geo. A. Whiting 800/558-5055
Fox River 800/558-8327 or local distributor sales rep
Fraser Papers, "Close The Loop" local distributor sales rep
Other Fraser Papers (e.g. groundwood, specialty, converting, paperboard) 800/920-9988
Tree-Free (partial or 100%) Arbokem 604/322-1317
Crane Sam Smith, 413/684-6495
Green Field Paper 619/338-9432
Vision Paper 505/294-0293
Broker New Leaf Paper 415/291-9210



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