Recycled Content Paper
Perform Competitively in Office Machines?
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.
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
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."
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."
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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
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
of the office paper manufacturers report that their
recycled paper meets the same specifications and performs
equivalently to their virgin papers.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.
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."
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."
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
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."
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.
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
"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."
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
far, the comments we have received raise the following
questions in determining paths towards resolution:
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?
concerns be reduced if paper users were encouraged
to separate "old experience" from their current experience
with recycled papers?
Do copier and printer service technicians have knowledge
about specific problems caused by recycled paper that
need to be addressed?
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
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?
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?
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?
does dusting seem to be noticed more with recycled
papers than with virgin papers, if indeed the problem
is potentially the same for both?