Chlorine Free Paper Issues


Does Recycled Content Paper
Perform Competitively in Office Machines?


One of the longest-running debates in environmental paper development is whether recycled paper works well in office machines or not. Even now, nearly 30 years after commercial grades of recycled papers began to be promoted (they had existed for decades before that but not been identified separately from virgin papers) and 15 years after the first brand of recycled paper was introduced specifically for use in high speed copiers, the debate shows no signs of letting up. While much of the discussion centers on copiers, office printers and faxes figure in, as well. The comments and interview responses we have received in the Listening Study offer new information and some possible paths towards resolving this issue. Ultimately, end-users need to be satisfied with recycled paper's performance in office machines or they will not support their paper purchasers' choices.

A large number of respondents in this initial report are from government agencies, primarily because many of their purchasers are more easily accessible on environmental purchasing list-serves than other types of purchasers, and because governments most visibly took the lead in using recycled paper early in its development and continue to do so. It also appears that purchasers in government may be more closely focused on their organizational policies than many purchasers in businesses, who may more often see policies as a step removed from their organization's core business. Nevertheless, this initial report does include respondents from businesses and we would like to include more, to explore whether there are differences in their experiences with environmental papers.

Many users report experiencing no problems using recycled paper in their office equipment. Comments such as, "Yes, it performs competitively in office machines (public agency)," and "The County has been using recycled paper for over 15 years. To the best of my knowledge, we have had no problems with the use of recycled paper in any of our machines (Dane County, WI)," were common. Some respondents listed a wide variety of equipment with which they are successfully using recycled paper. Pennsylvania's Dept. of Environmental Protection even added, "We have been using recycled paper for more than nine years and we have not experienced any difficulty in running recycled paper; for us it was just the opposite, it was virgin paper that caused us major problems."

A number of controlled tests have indicated no difference in performance between recycled and virgin office paper. One was conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (1998) with Cannon, Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark and the U.S. Government Printing Office testing over 2 million sheets of paper on a wide variety of copiers, laser printers and ink jet printers. Recycled paper with 30% postconsumer content performed equivalently to papers with 20-25% postconsumer and to virgin papers. Ongoing testing is reported by Buyers Laboratory, Inc., an independent office products testing laboratory, which has for many years used recycled as well as virgin paper in all its tests of different brands of copiers. It reports "no noticeable difference in the runnability of recycled paper versus virgin paper."

Sometimes, though, it was clear that even respondents who have no problems now with recycled paper have had problems in the past. These include comments such as, "No problems experienced in the past 5 years (Bank of America)," and "In the early 1980s, recycled papers were still in the development phase, and some state agencies in Minnesota had some trouble using the paper in their machines (Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance webpage)."

Another large group of respondents, however, report still experiencing difficulties with the runnability of recycled paper in their machines. We gathered end-users' comments first so that we could then take them to equipment manufacturers, paper manufacturers and copier service technicians for their insights into the source of these criticisms.

Those end-users who reported problems with recycled paper described a number of issues. Following is a listing of the types of issues raised, with comments by technical experts when relevant:

  • Concern that use of recycled paper would void warranties on copiers and office printers. We interviewed a wide range of copier and printer manufacturers (some of their interviews are still in process and not yet included here) and every one stated that the use of recycled paper would not void the warranty on their machines. One end-user, in a background conversation, told us he had relied on Hewlett-Packard's notation on their website that they did not recommend the use of recycled paper, but about the year 2000 it was removed. Today, Hewlett-Packard's representative says, "There may have been something early on in our warranties pertaining to recycled, but that is definitely not true today." In fact, Hewlett-Packard even sells some recycled copier/office paper under their own brand name.

Other than that reference, we have not received any verification from any source that supports the apparently common belief that using recycled paper will void warranties, and we have received assurances from many equipment companies that it does not. If there is contradictory evidence, we would like to add it to this study.

In fact, some equipment manufacturers were positive about using recycled paper - "[O]ur official contract information says our machines produce satisfactory copies on recycled paper," "Virtually all the recycled papers out there are indiscernible from virgin: they're dust-free, acid-free, etc. (Hewlett-Packard)," and "Our parent company is committed to using recycled products and recycled paper (Savin)." Others said they make no distinction between using recycled or virgin paper. Some have developed lists of recommended papers for their equipment, which they say include specific recycled papers.

One of the most frequent distinctions made about papers by representatives of copier equipment manufacturers was the need to use high quality papers, whether they are virgin or recycled. Representative comments include, "Warranties are more performance-based" and "We believe that low-quality recycled papers, just like low-quality virgin papers, cause runnability problems in copying and printing equipment. We also know that it is possible for recycled papers to achieve the same performance and reliability levels as comparable virgin papers (Xerox)."

Some purchasers, such as those in California and Massachusetts state governments, require that successful copier equipment bidders or contractors guarantee that their machines will perform successfully with recycled paper such as those brands they purchase, in order to assure no warranty issues. Kinko's reports that, "Our environmental assessment of the copiers we use asks if the machine has been designed to use recycled paper; they all are."

All of the office paper manufacturers report that their recycled paper meets the same specifications and performs equivalently to their virgin papers.

  • Belief that recycled paper jams more often than virgin papers. The Paper Task Force Report, published by the Environmental Defense Fund in 1995, found that, "Frequency of copier machine jams is not correlated with the use of recycled-content paper. The majority of jams are a function of several factors, such as two-sided copying, the speed and condition of equipment, the quality of the paper being used ([no matter] whether it is recycled or virgin) and operator errors."

One copier manufacturer ascribed problems to "environmental issues" such as low or high humidity, and several respondents noted the importance of reducing paper's exposure to humidity, no matter what the content.

As another copier manufacturer noted, "Bad recycled paper can dust and misfeed - although this is true for bad virgin paper as well and isn't necessarily due to the recycled content." Most of the problems cited fell into the categories described below.

Boise Paper Solutions points out that machines interact dynamically with paper, and that, "Our experience is that a machine will get 'accustomed' to a paper over time. . . If customers are switching back and forth between virgin and recycled papers, there may be jams - but not necessarily caused by the recycled fiber, per se. It may just be the machine needs to acclimate to the new paper, and once it settles in, the high performance returns."

  • Belief that recycled paper curls more often than virgin papers (thus contributing to the paper jams described above). Some respondents found that recycled papers tend to curl more than virgin papers. For example, Savin reports, "Most of the problems we have encountered with higher postconsumer content papers relate to increased curl - the shorter fibers cause the paper to curl more frequently in the heat of the copier process." The Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative says they "addressed the problem by reducing the heat setting on the printer."

Xerox points out, "The problems of excessive curl and contamination are quality issues related to the paper manufacturing process. Recycled papers, just like virgin papers, vary from high- to low-quality in terms of print quality and runnability. Producing a quality paper requires papermakers to establish strict performance specifications and to control the variability of the papermaking process to meet these specifications consistently."

This is exactly what paper manufacturers say they do. When there are problems, says Cascades Fine Papers, "then the manufacturer has to go back to the drawing board and perfect the product. We have done that and we have not run across any of these problems for many years. Whether you run into these problems really depends on the manufacturer and how they have evolved in their knowledge and experience in making the product." Most other paper manufacturers make the same point.

Weyerhaeuser adds, "Curl is complex and is mostly related to fiber orientation [on the papermaking machine], moisture content and drying strategy. Fiber furnish, including recycled content, tends to be a minor factor in poor sheet curl performance." According to International Paper, "The curl in paper containing recycled fiber has more to do with the hardwood to softwood ratio, the 'cutting' and 'brushing' of the fibers, the alignment of the fibers and the drying of the sheet during manufacture than the actual recycled content. Short fibers, either hardwood or those made by chopping up the long softwood fibers, produce a sheet with better formation but increases post-image curl. A very delicate balance must be maintained between fiber lengths, amount of filler, fiber processing and drying to produce a low curl high formation sheet."

Grays Harbor Paper brings in another point: "Curl of paper is more due to unequal top to bottom fiber distribution during the forming process, and unequal top to bottom drying of the paper," and Domtar explains, "Optimum fibre length is only one of the parameters required to having a curl free sheet. Excessively long fibre can be detrimental to curl due to the fact that softwood fibres (long) typically have higher coefficients of moisture expansion. It is more important to strive towards top and bottom sides of the sheet that are similar in structure and composition. This will ensure that the shrinkage of the fibres on the topside of the sheet will be more or less equal to the shrinkage of fibre on the bottom of the sheet, thus minimizing curl during toner fusing."

There may be an historic aspect to this issue, as well. International Paper points out that, "In the past, a higher amount of groundwood content was used in the recycled process. It has been determined that it is necessary to keep the groundwood content minimal to control post-image curl. Again, it is important that customers are basing their opinion on recycled grades now available and not on experiences gathered years ago."

Many people experience more jamming and curl when trying to duplex. But Domtar notes that there is actually a positive aspect to curl, if it is used constructively: "One often-overlooked means of improving duplexing is simply to ensure that the paper is loaded with the correct side up in the feed tray. Paper makers induce a certain amount of curl in the sheet, which opposes the stresses imparted to the sheet in the fuser section of copiers."

  • Belief that recycled paper creates more dust in office machines than virgin papers. Dusting was the biggest complaint. End-users and some copier equipment manufacturers reported more dust from recycled than from virgin paper. But others, including paper manufacturers, point to sources that are the same no matter whether the paper has recycled or virgin fiber.

Some pointed out inadequate vacuuming of the sides after large sheets and rolls of paper are cut down to 8.5x11 "cut-size" sheets. When this occurs, it is an individual papermill problem, not a recycled content problem. International Paper agrees, "Most of the paper dust causing this problem can be related to finishing problems such as poor edge cuts and rough edges. These are housekeeping and maintenance problems that are independent of the recycled fiber content of the grades." Georgia Pacific adds, "Dusting in end-use devices is generally related to sheeter cut/off quality, slit quality issues or dust removal system deficiencies. It may be influenced by total filler content or choice of surface treatment, but no more so for recycled papers than for virgin papers."

The "total filler content" brings up a point that many end-users may not be aware of: Papermakers have switched over the past several years from acid-based papermaking to alkaline-based production. The reasons are varied, but Badger Paper Mills names two when it says, "[A]lkaline paper allows for brighter and longer lasting paper." Savin says, "An alkaline-based sheet requires less harmful chemicals, and is better for the environment, but an alkaline sheet accepts or absorbs more chalk and fillers in the papermaking process. That chalk residue sticks to the sheet after cutting, and is still on the sheet when it is fed into the copier, which contributes to a greater dusting factor. Dusting is more about alkaline vs. acid than about fiber content."

Domtar lists several possible culprits: "Poorly bound fibre/filler, inadequate surface sizing, excessive filler, poor cut quality during converting, poor internal sizing chemistry (ketone migration)."

Nevertheless, Cascades Fine Papers insists, 'There should not be any reason for dusting. You can compensate for this, you can perfect the product. We have not run across any problems with dusting for the past 5-7 years. The answer is better sizing to seal the paper better and compensate for any dust that could come from an alkaline paper. But this issue is the same for recycled or virgin alkaline sheets. You have to size the paper perfectly."

Ocˇ-USA is convinced that dusting is an historical problem. While several years ago the recycled paper they tested did generally have more dusting than virgin paper, they add, "However, this was several years ago; I think recycled content paper has improved a lot since then."

But an internal university study of 100% postconsumer paper in printers found that the paper they tested caused considerably more dust, wore out rollers faster, and jammed almost twice as much as 100% virgin paper.

End-user responses also suggested a number of auxiliary issues:

  • Some machines just seem to have problems when others of the same type do not. One respondent humorously suggests that some machines just have "ghosts" in them. Boise Office Solutions, in a comment above, says they find that sometimes machines just need to get acclimated to the paper. This seems to be borne out by Pennsylvania DEP's experience that they had all sorts of problems with virgin paper when they temporarily changed from their usual recycled.

Kinko's, too, reports having problems with a particular 100% postconsumer paper that jammed frequently in their high-speed copiers, even though some branches, presumably using the same types of machines, use only 100% postconsumer in their high-speed copiers and don't experience any problems at all.

  • Persistence of historic experience and issues of perception. Many of the comments refer to problems that happened years ago. Both the copier equipment and the paper manufacturers, as well as many end-users, acknowledge past problems but are convinced that today's recycled papers are vastly improved and do not cause those problems now. Georgia Pacific, for example, noted that, "In the early 90's some suppliers experienced difficulty with 'sticky' content that led to contamination of photo receptors until fiber recovery technology improvements resolved the problem." Several paper manufacturers note that they have learned over the years to compensate for weaknesses presented by recycled fibers, as well as maximize their strengths, just as they must do for each different type of tree fiber they might use, as well.
  • Difference in experiences with various brands of recycled paper. As one copier manufacturer stated, "In copiers in general, not just ours, some recycled papers perform better than others." We identify the papers that respondents were happy with, and do not identify the papers that they had problems with, because there was no consistent pattern for either of these. For every complaint about a particular paper, there is another comment that using that specific paper solved someone else's problems. Since this is not a controlled study, we did not want to give the impression that a particular paper is more problematic than another just because it is mentioned more often. We know that the high percentage of government purchasers responding to the Listening Study (which we greatly appreciate) tend to favor certain papers over others because of buying groups and joint contracts, so they are likely to be mentioned more in these comments. However, even so, the same papers listed as causing tremendous problems in one office are named as the salvation for another.

Perhaps the best advice, which several people offered, is to try another recycled paper if one seems to be creating problems, rather than switching immediately to virgin paper. Almost all the problems named by respondents were convincingly explained as potentially common to both virgin and recycled paper by many of the technical respondents. If recycled content truly is not the culprit causing problems, then many should be solvable by switching to a different recycled paper.

  • Difference in experience between using 100% postconsumer copy paper vs. papers with lower recycled contents. A number of comments seemed to suggest that problems were more common with 100% postconsumer papers than with 30% postconsumer, but this was not consistent.

Savin reports, "30% postconsumer is a much better paper than the previous paper specified by the government (50% recycled, 10% postconsumer). 30% is an acceptable level of postconsumer content - higher content is problematic," and Cascades Fine Papers says, "Our experience is that very high percentages of recycled fiber can create a higher incidence of copier machine jams because recycled fibers are weaker than the equivalent virgin fibers. You don't see that with 20-30% recycled content. The higher amount of recycled content is more likely to result in a higher incidence of jams on complex processes, such as duplexing. On simple processes such as simply copying, even the 100% recycled is fine. Still, there are ways to compensate for weaker fibers in the manufacturing process."

Nevertheless, Badger's Envirographic 100 is praised by many offices, and Boise Office Solution's Aspen 100 has tested very well in Buyers Laboratory tests. More information is needed, including on the other 100% postconsumer copy papers, to determine whether the postconsumer content seems to play a part in jams and other problems.

  • Difference in experience with older, newer or high speed equipment. Grays Harbor Paper says that, "Higher speed equipment is always more susceptible to runnability problems, regardless of recycle content. Our experience with 30% PC recycled paper is that it runs as well as virgin. Older equipment often have runnability problems with recycled and virgin copy paper." Some say that new copiers tend to be designed with simpler paper paths, which reduces jamming. However, high speed copiers tend to be more complex and also hotter, which can be more demanding on the paper.
  • Use of old paper or the wrong grade of paper for the machine. Some comments make clear that people are using old paper, which is likely to have absorbed humidity whether the content is recycled or virgin. Paper that is several years old is also unlikely to have been made with today's newest technical advances. Comparing it to new paper makes it impossible to distinguish whether problems are caused by the paper's content, or the difference in age between the papers.

There is also some indication that people are comparing dissimilar types of paper. A text or cover sheet will perform differently from a paper engineered for use in a copier, and those differences are independent of whether or not the paper has recycled content.

  • Perception that copier service technicians are often negative about the use of recycled paper. Along with dusting, perhaps the largest number of comments has to do with negative attitudes towards recycled paper that respondents have observed in copier service technicians. Indeed, Canada's Aurora Institute, in the report they are authoring with Reach for Unbleached, Following the Paper Trail (to be released later this summer), finds that, "While at least 40% of respondents had heard no complaints about recycled/chlorine free papers in the office environment, of those who had heard critiques, fully 43.5% of complaints had come from office machine maintenance technicians or distributors."

We interviewed representatives from five companies that service copiers. Three seemed well-informed about and positive towards recycled papers, but two said they discourage its use. One even said he had been warned twenty years ago to stay away from recycled paper and has passed on that advice ever since. We assume that these comments represent a true range in service technician approaches, but we do not believe they are a fair representation of this whole field. We would like to get more input from copier service companies.

No summary can do justice to the wealth of information to be found in the comments in this study. We urge you to read through them to get the full range of knowledge they can provide. We found them fascinating and enlightening.

So far, the comments we have received raise the following questions in determining paths towards resolution:

  1. Would concerns about using recycled paper in copiers and other office equipment be reduced if paper users received more education about the high quality of today's recycled office papers?
  2. Would concerns be reduced if paper users were encouraged to separate "old experience" from their current experience with recycled papers?
  3. Do copier and printer service technicians have knowledge about specific problems caused by recycled paper that need to be addressed?
  4. Would concerns about using recycled paper in office equipment be reduced if copier and printer service technicians were given more education about today's high quality recycled papers?
  5. Since service technicians are often an important source of education for paper users who have problems with their office machines, would educating the service technicians also help educate paper users?
  6. If education of service technicians would be beneficial, who is the best source of that education - the equipment manufacturers who outsource equipment service, recycled paper manufacturers, a combination, other?
  7. Do 100% postconsumer copier papers compromise performance under any, or special, circumstances, especially duplexing? If so, can the problem be corrected through adaptations in the production process or in office machines?
  8. Why does dusting seem to be noticed more with recycled papers than with virgin papers, if indeed the problem is potentially the same for both?


The Listening Study is a project of Conservatree
Copyright © 2003-2011 Conservatree
Terms of Use

Market Factors Conclusion Recycled Content Issues Chlorine Free Paper Issues Sustainable Forest Issues Tree Free Paper Issues Join the Discussion View all PDF documents Bibliography Overview Project Director Project Partners FAQ Email Us