|Recycled Paper: The Best Choice
Paper purchasers can protect the environment, save money, and purchase
the best papers available just by buying the best - recycled paper.
Reasons To Buy Recycled Paper
- Excellent performance
- Meets the same technical specifications
as virgin papers
- Many are acid-free for archival longevity
- Successfully runs on the most demanding
copiers, office machines and printing presses
- Many recycled copy papers are guaranteed
to work well in copiers
- High to moderate brightness levels, with pleasing light reflection
- Ranges from clean, bright whites to a wide palette of colors
- Some recycled graphic papers have specks added back in to the
paper to achieve custom design effects
- Available in virtually every grade of paper
- Most printers, paper distributors, and retail outlets have some
recycled paper on their shelves
- Choices are even greater if you order recycled paper ahead of
- Many are the best buy or evenly priced with nonrecycled, especially
letterhead, matching envelopes, business cards, brochures, and
many coated papers
- When recycled papers cost more, price differentials are usually
- Buying in larger quantities and planning ahead further reduces
or eliminates price premiums on recycled paper
- Saves trees, energy, water, and landfill space compared to virgin
- Protects forests, watersheds, ecosystems
- Produces less pollution than virgin paper production
- Offers environmental savings many times over, since fibers can
be recycled repeatedly
- Needs less bleaching than virgin papers; reduces use of toxic
- Concentrates inks, chemicals and other potential hazards for
responsible management, instead of releasing them as do landfilling
- Incorporates full-cycle production costs, unlike virgin paper
which includes no responsibility for its eventual disposal costs
- Creates strong, ongoing markets for
local community recycling collection systems
- Provides the foundation of an environmentally
sustainable paper production system (even when papers are
tree-free, chlorine-free or produced through certified sustainable
Steps To Take in Purchasing and Using Recycled
- Always specify postconsumer recycled paper, to create markets
for local community recycling collection systems.
- Buy the highest postconsumer content you can, balanced against
your budget and functional needs.
- Choose the right grade of paper for your job.
- Allow enough lead-time for a wider selection and better pricing.
- Use recycled paper both for "public" paper uses such
as stationery, direct mail and brochures, as well as for less
visible uses such as copy paper.
- Specify recycled paper use in all contracts.
- Publicize the need to buy recycled paper - to employees, customers,
- Label all printed materials, including letters, bills and publications,
as printed on recycled paper so that others will see how acceptable
and high quality it is.
- Solve equipment and other complaints by investigating all possible
causes of the problem. Don't quit buying recycled paper.
- Deal with cost issues in ways that encourage continued recycled
paper purchases. Reduce paper waste to reduce costs.
- Obtain accurate information. Don't automatically believe negative
The Bottom Line: Buy Recycled Paper
Need More Detailed Information? Read On .
Recycling Is Essential For A Healthy Environment
Historically, paper was made by recycling cotton and linen rags.
The first paper mill in the U.S. colonies, built near Philadelphia
in 1690, was a recycling mill. Papermakers learned how to make paper
from trees in the mid-1800s, allowing a dynamic expansion in communications
and business paper usage. At the time, people considered forests
and energy to be unlimited, and air and water infinitely capable
of cleansing and renewal. Today, we recognize the limits of resource
demand and the necessity for environmentally sustainable production
systems. That's why recycled paper is a critical part of our vision
for a healthy global environment.
What Goes Into Recycled Paper?
Paper that is collected for recycling is sorted according to the
type of mill that will use it. Most recovered office paper can be
sent to a deinking mill, which separates the ink, coatings and other
extra materials from the paper fibers. The fibers are then sent
to a paper machine to be made into new paper.
Even virgin paper mills have always recycled their internal scraps
and many also have long recycled clean scraps from businesses that
convert paper into envelopes, reams and other products. A few printing
and writing paper mills have long had the capability to deink printers'
scraps. Reusing this "preconsumer" material is an economically
sensible part of the production process and proves that recycling
But the vast majority of paper ends up in people's homes and businesses,
where 90% is discarded within a year. This "postconsumer"
paper is more diverse, with characteristics such as copier toner
and a wide variety of adhesives that are not found in preconsumer
scraps and are much harder to recycle. Most of this postconsumer
paper used to be landfilled or burned - losing its potential for
repeatedly conserving resources by continual recycling - and local
governments had few markets for selling the recyclable office and
household paper they were collecting in community recycling programs.
Now many governments and business purchasers require postconsumer
content in their recycled papers. Most recycled papers now have
some postconsumer content. But there is, nevertheless, significant
room for increase: more than 90% of the market still goes to virgin
paper and even recycled papers could include much higher postconsumer
How Is Recycled Paper Defined?
Legally, recycled paper only has to include materials recovered
after the initial paper manufacturing process. But that definition
is so loose that in the past some "recycled papers" contained
only mill scraps that would have been included in virgin paper anyway.
Recycling collection systems focus on postconsumer paper, which
is most of the scrap paper that needs collection and recycling.
So, for practical market development considerations, virtually all
recycled paper buyers today specify postconsumer content.
Requiring postconsumer content develops markets for community recycling
collection systems by creating incentives for paper mills to buy
their postconsumer scrap paper. This, in turn, encourages research
and development and mill investments in recycling technology, further
strengthening market capacity.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues minimum
recycled content guidelines for federal paper purchases. While
only federal agencies and federal contractors are required to follow
these standards, they have been adopted by so many state and local
governments, as well as businesses and organizations, that most
paper companies now meet at least their minimum requirements. The
EPA guidelines require minimums of 30% postconsumer content for
most uncoated printing and writing papers, and 10% for most coated
How Are Recycled Papers Labeled?
The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) environmental labeling guidelines
require only "recovered materials" for papers labeled
as "recycled." There is no postconsumer content required,
so papers containing only mill scraps could qualify. Any paper labeled
with the chasing arrows symbol
is required to both have 100% recycled content as well as be recyclable
in a reasonably available collection system. If the paper does not
meet one or both criteria, text must accompany the chasing arrows
symbol explaining what qualifications the product does meet. If
the label does not indicate postconsumer content, you should assume
there is none until investigating further.
Who Is Required To Use Recycled Paper?
The federal government requires its purchasers to buy recycled
paper. It also requires contractors who pay more than $10,000 in
a year for paper to buy recycled for the portion that is used to
fulfill government contracts.
Some state and local governments require their purchasers
to buy only recycled paper. Others allow a price preference (a pricing
leeway, usually about 10%) for recycled paper and/or have legislative
goals for a percentage of their paper purchases to qualify as recycled
content. All 50 states have some type of legislation or executive
order encouraging the purchase of recycled paper and/or products.
Many state and local governments also require contractors to use
recycled paper for government work.
Businesses performing federal contracts are required to
use recycled paper, and may be required to do so for other government
contracts. Some state courts require documents to be printed on
recycled paper (e.g. California). Many businesses not required to
buy recycled paper nevertheless have developed policies to do so,
as part of their environmental and community responsibility.
What Kinds of Recycled Paper Are Available?
You can get just about every kind of paper now with recycled content,
providing high quality papers for businesses, billing, magazines,
catalogs, books, advertising, direct mail and many other uses. Grades
- letterhead, stationery and envelopes
- business cards
- brochure papers
- high quality copy paper
- text and cover
- book printing papers
- all grades of coated papers
- bristols, index, translucent, tag and board, drawing, and specialty
Aren't Recycled Papers More Expensive?
In the past, recycled papers often cost considerably more than
virgin papers. Today, many grades such as text and cover (often
used for letterhead, brochures and publications) and some coated
papers are cost-competitive with virgin papers or even cost less.
Copier and offset papers still tend to cost somewhat more, but the
price differentials are smaller than ever, usually only a few percent.
When there are cost differences, they are primarily caused by many
recycled papers being made on smaller paper machines than virgin
papers (creating a difference in economies of scale), by virgin
paper mills dropping their prices because of vagaries in the market,
and by imbalances caused by a newly capitalized and still-developing
recycling system vs. a well-established and industrially integrated
tree-pulping production system. Additionally, recycled paper incorporates
all its costs into the product, including providing an alternative
to disposal, and is not rewarded for its significantly lower energy
and water use. Virgin paper costs, on the other hand, are masked
by generous government timber, energy and water subsidies and do
not incorporate responsibility or costs for the product's eventual
How Can A Buyer Justify Higher Recycled Paper
Costs, When They Exist?
- Recognize that recycled paper's benefits are far greater than
simply dollars and allow a price preference. The most common is
10%. Several studies have confirmed that price preferences do
not increase paper budgets to the preference limit. Even 10% price
preference policies generally yield paper price increases of no
more than 2-3% overall. However, some recycled papers need the
entire preference while others are less expensive than virgin.
Price preferences allow buyers the purchasing room to choose recycled
papers even when some grades may be slightly higher-priced than
their virgin paper alternatives.
- Aggressively reduce paper waste, using the resulting paper budget
savings to buy recycled paper even when it is more expensive.
- Apply recycling income and savings, such as payments for collected
paper or avoided disposal costs, to funding the difference in
costs for recycled paper.
- Put price differentials into perspective. How much is the actual
price difference compared to the total project cost, or total
budget, or other expenses? Can you offset higher-priced recycled
paper purchases with savings from other types of recycled papers
that are less expensive?
- Take the long view. Paper markets are cyclical and highly dynamic.
Sometimes all paper prices are high, other times low. Sometimes
market factors affect recycled and virgin papers differently and
cause tempo-rary price differences. Experienced paper buyers realize
that prices continue to vacillate.
What About Quality?
In the 1980s, recycled paper was often of uneven quality, sometimes
appearing tan, gray, or spotted. But today recycled paper is available
in all colors, including the brightest whites, and meets the highest
technical standards, sometimes even exceeding comparable virgin
In 1998, the U.S. Conference of Mayors conducted a study with leading
equipment manufacturers and the Government Printing Office. Over
two million sheets were tested for paper feeding, reliability, image
quality, toner fixability, smoothness, curl, and other aspects.
Results proved that recycled papers with 30% postconsumer content
performed just as well as virgin papers and recycled papers with
lower postconsumer content.
Commercial printers and copier machine manufacturers today agree
that recycled paper is suitable for all their machines. They only
require good quality paper, whether recycled or virgin.
Common Myths About Recycled Paper
MYTH: All paper is recycled now, there's no need to ask
FACT: Even at the height of its success, recycled paper only
had about 10% of the printing and writing paper market and even
those papers contained mostly virgin materials. Now distributors,
printers and paper mills say that demand is dropping because buyers
believe they no longer have to ask for recycled. Yet more than 90%
of the printing and writing paper made in this country today is
still virgin paper.
MYTH: All paper companies are making recycled paper, so
all paper must be recycled.
FACT: Most paper companies own many mills. One or two might
be making recycled, but the rest are all making virgin paper. Even
many of the recycling mills are making a lot of virgin paper.
MYTH: Recycled paper jams copiers.
FACT: Today's recycled copier paper is high quality and technically
perfected for use in copiers. If the paper jams in a copier, it
is not because of the recycled content. It may be that the ream
sat opened for a long time and absorbed moisture. Sometimes people
use paper that's not formulated for copiers and then wonder why
it jams. Use paper qualified as "high-speed" for high
speed copiers. The machine may need cleaning or adjusting. Try another
brand of recycled paper, just as you'd try another brand of virgin
MYTH: The little fibers in recycled paper create too much
dust in machines.
FACT: Excessive dust comes not from recycled fibers but from
inadequate production processes or incomplete vacuuming of cut paper
sides. Buy high quality paper to avoid such problems.
MYTH: It's better to focus on tree-free or chlorine-free
FACT: "Tree-free" is a fiber source. "Chlorine-free"
is a bleaching process. Recycling is a system necessary for environmental
sustainability. Whether paper is made from trees, crops, agricultural
residues, or other fibers, it needs a system to recycle it after
eventual disposal. The fact that recycled paper today consists almost
exclusively of tree fibers reflects only the current state of our
paper supply. Tree-free and chlorine-free fibers should be combined
with recycled content whenever possible, to develop a strong foundation
for more environmentally sound papers.
MYTH: It's better to burn paper for energy than to recycle
FACT: The fibers in fine paper can be recycled up to a dozen
times before becoming too short for papermaking, saving resources,
water and energy, and reducing pollution each one of those times.
The impact and value of these repeated savings are much greater
than the minimal amount of energy produced when the paper is burned
MYTH: Making recycled paper is environmentally damaging.
FACT: Recycled paper production saves trees, energy and water,
produces less pollution, uses more benign chemicals, and requires
less bleaching than virgin paper production. It also solves a community
disposal problem. The only area in which recycled paper creates
more disposal materials is in the greater amount of sludge produced
than virgin papermaking. But the problem materials that fall into
recycled paper sludge would otherwise have been scattered throughout
landfills or concentrated in incinerator emissions or ash. Recycling
mill sludge becomes an environmentally preferable way of handling
potentially toxic materials such as inks and additives. The sludge
of many recycling mills tests non-toxic. Sludge that tests hazardous
can be disposed of by an environmentally controlled method.
Strengthen Markets: Join With Others
Paper distributors, printers and retailers need to see demand for
recycled paper if they are to continue stocking it. Manufacturers
need to hear demand to continue making it. That's why it's crucial
to always specify recycled paper with postconsumer content. Joining
coalition groups committed to recycled product procurement can amplify
your vote for recycled paper by making the magnitude of the market
demand more visible.
- The Recycled Paper Coalition is a group of businesses and organizations
committed to recycled paper purchases, paper waste reduction,
and office paper collection for recycling.
- The National Recycling CoalitionÕs Buy Recycled Business Alliance
encourages purchases of all types of recycled products, including
Join with others
and Buy Recycled Paper!
Author: Susan Kinsella
Sponsors: Recycled Paper Coalition, Alameda County Waste
Production: Buy Recycled Business Alliance