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It's easy being green

Mar 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Recycled Paper

When first introduced, recycled paper was inferior to virgin pulp in price, quality and performance. As Americans continue to recycle more paper and socially responsible purchasing practices fuel demand, recycled fiber has improved in those three areas, sometimes dramatically. Coupled with environmentally friendly options for virgin pulp that isn’t just marketing-speak, printers and print buyers have many high-quality “green” paper options available.

Although costs have improved, price does remain an issue. Lynda Ramsey, director of printing papers for Weyerhaeuser (Fort Mill, SC), explains. “A major reason that recycled paper has historically been more expensive,” Ramsey says, “is due to limited resources of viable recycled materials.

“Post-consumer waste (PCW) fiber still is more expensive than virgin fiber produced in our own facilities, and an important factor for customers to understand why there may be an upcharge for some of our recycled products,” she continues. “Among other factors, how much consumers recycle paper products in their homes, offices and printing facilities impacts our ability to economically supply recycled products on a continuous basis.”

Nonetheless, Sandra Rothenberg, associate professor of management for Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) (Rochester, NY) College of Business, notes that market and manufacturing forces are steering many recycled paper cost and quality trends. “As with many products,” she says, “economies of scale will help reduce the costs of recycled papers. The higher price is due partly to the fact that many recycled papers are being made on smaller paper machines, which are more expensive to run. The more recycled paper that is purchased, the greater the economies of scale and the more likely it will be that prices will drop.”

Rothenberg, who also is a research associate for the RIT Printing Industry Center, says there are many high-quality recycled papers on the market, with some grades equal or slightly lower in cost than virgin paper of similar quality. Copier and offset papers tend to cost more, however, ranging anywhere from two percent to 30 percent higher, depending on the paper and the grade.

Rothenberg also says the de-inking process for PCW increases costs. Moreover, the resulting ink sludge creates a disposal issue—a major problem frequently mentioned by paper recyclers. “It usually makes sense to reuse scrap paper in paper products of a lesser quality, such as newsprint, paper towels, toilet tissue, corrugated cartons, chipboard and other items.”

There also is an image problem to overcome. Laura Shore, senior vice president of communications for Mohawk Fine Papers (Cohoes, NY) says, “The quality [of early recycled papers] was often poor, due to inconsistent sources for fiber. Inconsistent paper quality resulted in inconsistent press performance. For instance, blankets needed to be changed far more frequently. Visible flecks in the paper sometimes were mistaken for hickeys in the finished result. This, in turn, was interpreted by many clients as ‘bad printing.’”

Shore notes that improvements in the manufacturing process coupled with the now consistent quality of post-consumer fiber has created new choices for socially conscious print buyers and printers. “The quality of the finished printed piece often rivals that of virgin papers,” she says. “Sometimes one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.”

Recycling fiber trends
While recycled fiber typically might find its way into lesser quality products, Chris Forthaus, director of product management at Boise® Cascade (Boise, ID), has spotted a different trend.

According to Forthaus, “One of the latest trends that have caught our attention is the use of recycled-content in the higher-end, digital imaging paper products. Laser, inkjet and color copier-based paper products, which require a higher quality look and feel, are being produced with anywhere from 10 percent to 100 percent recycled fiber. This is particularly interesting because of the demand it puts on the producer to provide a high-quality imaging product with an inferior fiber source. Although it has challenged our papermakers, they have figured out how to do it with some astounding results, especially when compared to the recycled-content sheets produced in the past.”

Forthaus says Boise also sees increased brightness/whiteness of sheets containing recycled pulp. “It’s surprising that the North American market has moved in this direction because Europe traditionally influences shade and brightness trends in paper products,” he explains. “While the North American market moves to brighter/whiter recycled products, Europe appears to be inconsistent—some manufactures continue to produce the dull, greenish-grayish shades, while others produce the brighter/whiter sheets.”

Certified “green”
The biggest trend in recycled paper reflects the growing corporate social responsibility trend seen in “green” purchasing practices. Interest in recycled paper has shifted to a focus on forest and/or paper certification.

Forest and/or paper certifications, such as a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, address many of the same reasons people and corporations use and purchase recycled paper.

According to Lewis Fix, director of business development corporate markets at Domtar Industries (Montreal), “There are several certifications for sustainable forestry, such as FSC and SFI [Sustainable Forestry Initiative program of the AF&PA]. These benefit timberlands and forests, the products derived from their resources and the wildlife that live within. It’s the SFI and FSC sanction that makes the buyer and printer feel more comfortable using a given grade of paper. And, yes, it’s a bonus if it happens to be recycled.”

Katie Miller, communications director at the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) says, “Obviously, post-consumer recycled paper is a great option and helps ease the strain on forest resources, but that’s not always an option for people who need higher-end papers with some virgin-fiber content. FSC certification is a way to make sure that content comes from a good source.”

When explaining how corporations manage risk by choosing non-controversial paper sources, Fix references the ongoing ForestEthics ( campaign against lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret. The environmental group has initiated more than 200 demonstrations and sizable press coverage since its campaign began in October 2004, protesting the mailing of more than a million catalogs a day using little or no recycled content.

Fix says, “Specifying ‘recycled’ typically helps them in the risk management area. The environmental and social responsibility movement has raised the awareness of paper consumption and the options available for companies to reduce their ecological footprint through environmental paper selection—not just by buying papers with a higher recycled content, but by addressing the ‘rest of the page’ (the virgin content) and specifying FSC-certified papers.”

Fix says paper companies can make a very high-quality, 100 percent post-consumer fiber sheet, but it is a matter of finding the highest quality post-consumer fiber (usually uncoated, from a higher brightness base stock, and not previously recycled).

“Obviously, this comes at a higher cost to the mill,” Fix says. “Depending on the grade of paper, many can contain a certain amount of post-consumer fibers and not be labeled ‘inferior.’ With FSC-certified fiber, you can be environmentally conscious and not compromise at all on quality or runnability.”

Avoiding greenwashing
There are two types of certification available. First, there’s the forest management certification: FSC-accredited certifiers confirm the forest is being responsibly managed. Miller notes, “[FSC-accredited certifiers] make sure animal habitats are being taken care of, [review] pesticide use and cover all the on-the-ground stuff.”

The second is the FSC chain-of-custody (COC) certification for manufacturers, distributors, retailers and printers. It works primarily as a materials tracking certification. If the fiber comes from an FSC-certifed source and is kept separate when fed through their systems, the product can be labeled with the FSC-certifed logo.

FSC’s Miller says, “As the whole corporate responsibility movement is going forward, I think people are becoming savvier and looking for verification of environmental claims. There has been a lot of ‘greenwashing’ across a lot of industries.”

Greenwashing, a term coined by critics and environmentalists, references the promotion of a positive public image of environmentally unsound practices and environmentally un-friendly corporations. A company can say, “This is printed on forest-friendly paper,” but what does that mean? By contrast, “FSC is a trademarked, certified logo that means a third party has gone in and verified the forest management practices, as well as the supply chain the fiber has gone through,” says Miller.

Miller reports an increase in companies wanting to print on “green” paper, most notably catalogers. One reason for greater use of FSC certified paper is greater availability. “Frankly, all the ducks are in a row now,” she says.

Green guys
Neenah Paper (Alpharetta, GA) | Neenah Paper has started using Green Steam for energy, reducing its natural gas consumption by 80 percent annually. The steam is derived from wastewater sludge from paper mills and was developed by Minergy Corp. Every year Neenah recycles 10,000 tons of paper sludge. Neenah offers the Environment line of papers, including Environment Alternative Fiber and Environment FSC-certified with a minimum of 17.5 percent virgin fiber. All papers in this brand are Green Seal-certified. See

Boise Cascade (Boise, ID) | Boise offers a wide range of recycled paper choices including Boise Aspen 100 (100 percent post-consumer content without the use of chlorine or chlorine components) for digital applications and Recycled Smooth Offset, Smooth Lightweight Opaque and Vellum Lightweight Opaque for commercial printing. See

UPM (Helsinki, Finland) | Of the wood procured for all UPM papers, 70 percent originates from sustainably-managed certified forests. No elemental chlorine bleached pulp is used, and the use of biofuels, as well as co-generation of heat and electricity, is a general practice. All UPM pulp and paper mills use a third party certified ISO 14001 Environmental Managment System. For 2006, UPM has been selected Forest Products & Paper industry group leader in the DJSI World (Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes) for the second consecutive year. See

Finch, Pruyn & Co. (Glen Falls, NY) | All stock folio sheets of Finch Fine are now FSC-certified. Finch Fine uncoated papers are a popular choice for brochures, catalogs, direct mailers and annual reports. The grade is available in Bright White, Vanilla and Soft White shades. See

Weyerhaeuser (Fort Mill, SC) | Weyerhaeuser’s Cougar, a premium #1 opaque, combines 98 brightness, high opacity, print quality, consistent performance and now 10 percent recycled content. Designers, printers and buyers all rely on Cougar for its value and dependable results. See

Wausau Paper (Wausau, WI) | Wausau Paper offers the broadest assortment of Green Seal-certified printing and writing papers, applied to approximately two-thirds of the company’s 1,600 offerings. Its Exact Eco 100 line of imaging paper is made exclusively with 100 percent recycled post-consumer fiber. See

Mohawk Fine Papers (Cohoes, NY) | Mohawk offers a complete range of recycled paper choices through its flagship grades, including Strathmore, Mohawk Superfine, Beckett, BriteHue, Via, Mohawk Color Copy and patented Inxwell products Navajo and Options. Mohawk is the only mill to offer the Mohawk Windpower Portfolio. See

Domtar Industries (Montreal) | Under the Domtar EarthChoice brand, there are 13 product lines, all with FSC-certified fiber and a variety with recycled content including: Cornwall Coated Cover, EarthCote (magazine/catalog paper), Feltweave, Nekoosa Linen, Plainfield Opaque, Proterra, Sandpiper (100 percent post-consumer fiber), Skytone and Solutions. See

Cascades Fine Papers Group (Quebec, Canada) | Cascades Fine Papers Group produces fine papers that contain on average 30 percent post-consumer fiber. Cascades also manufactures New Life DP100, Rolland Enviro100, Rolland Enviro Edition and Rolland Inspiration Ecofibre. All possess the following ecological attributes: 100 percent recycled post-consumer, processed chlorine free (Cascades is the only Chlorine Free Products Assn. certified company in North America), certified EcoLogo and manufactured using biogas energy. See

Green glossary
By Sabine Lenz, founder of

In 1988, the EPA set a standard for the purchase of paper by federal, state and local agencies. They recommended that all papers bought by any government agency should have a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer waste (PCW) for coated papers and a minimum of 30 percent for uncoated papers.

I don’t want to speculate if every government agency follows these recommended standards, but I know that a lot of mills strive to meet and exceed these requirements and are a good starting point, if you haven’t specified recycled paper before.

Pre- vs. post-consumer waste
Not all recycled pulp is the same. We distinguish between pre- and post-consumer waste (PCW). One look at the EPA guidelines tells you that PCW is the one you should watch.

Pre-consumer waste refers to paper that has never reached the consumer. It is basically scraps of paper recovered from the mill’s factory floor. PCW refers to the recycle bins you so dedicatedly fill every week. Even though the majority of these collections are used for building materials, some find their way into recycled paper as well.

Three free chlorines
Beyond the post-consumer content you should watch out for, consider paper bleaching methodologies.

Elemental chlorine-free indicates virgin or recycled fiber that is bleached with chlorine dioxide or other chlorine compounds. This process significantly reduces hazardous dioxins but does not completely eliminate them.

Processed chlorine-free (PCF) indicates the recycled fiber in the sheet is unbleached or bleached with non-chlorine compounds. PCF papers are not considered totally chlorine-free because of the unknown original bleaching process of the fibers that are recycled.

Totally chlorine-free (TCF) means the 100 percent virgin fiber (including virgin tree-free fiber) is unbleached or bleached with non-chlorine compounds. It might also include wood or alternative fibers, such as kenaf. The term TCF cannot be used on recycled paper because the bleaching process of the original paper is unknown.

Another option is to look for paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This means that the FSC fiber content in this paper, even though virgin, comes from operations that certify for the Forest Stewardship Council’s sustainable forestry practices.

We currently see three different certifications in the paper industry:
FSC Pure Material is 100 percent FSC material from an FSC-certified forest. It has been sold and/or processed by an FSC chain-of-custody certified company and has been identified as FSC Pure.

FSC Mixed Pulp comes from any combination of FSC-certified, well managed forests, company-controlled sources and/or recycled material. Company-controlled sources are controlled in accordance to FSC standards. They exclude illegally harvested timber, forests where high conservation values are threatened or there is violation of people’s civil and traditional rights, or wood from areas that have been converted from natural forest to plantations.

FSC Recycled Label is for product groups that contain 100 percent post-consumer waste material.

For more information on environmental issues and eco-friendly papers:

Thomson-Shore goes green
Two years ago, Thomson-Shore (Dexter, MI) became the first book manufacturer to commit itself to the goals of the Green Press Initiative (GPI), a nonprofit-organized effort to promote the use of post-consumer recycled and environmentally responsible paper. The company planned to increase its use of recycled fiber five-fold within three years—from five percent to 25 percent of its printing volume. Thomson-Shore is 12 months ahead of schedule, with post-consumer recycled fiber representing 25.7 percent of its annual volume.


FSC-certified satisfaction
Quinn Harris, vice president of Harris LithoGraphics (Landover, MD) says his family-owned, commercial printing company is delighted to be in the FSC certification program and he would recommend it to every printer.

The 30-employee company first heard of the FSC chain-of-custody certification program by word-of-mouth. Harris says the process was easy and affordable. “For us, it was more of an investment into the future and into the environment,” he says. “We don’t look at it as an expense.”

Harris LithoGraphic offers one- to six-color commercial printing on a variety of presses up to a 40-inch Heidelberg. It was the first U.S. printer to receive FSC certification, in January 2003.

Since then, more than 70 print shops have become certified (a PDF list is available at, including five RR Donnelley book plant locations.

“It’s starting to be a more common question for people to ask for FSC-certified stock,” Harris says, “It is becoming more well known.”

Because Harris LithoGraphics is FSC chain-of-custody certified, its customers who use FSC-certified stock can use the FSC logo on print jobs (such as annual reports). This publicly verifies they are being socially responsible in their paper buying practices to stockholders, stakeholders, employees, activists and customers. Harris says he’s pleased more printers, both large and small, offer this value-added service: “This is the way everyone should be thinking, especially printers.”

Pictorial gets smarter
In 1999, Pictorial Offset Corp. was the first commercial printer of its kind in the world to earn dual quality and environmental compliance accreditations of the Intl. Standards Organization (ISO 9002: 1994 and ISO 14001: 1996, respectively.) In 2005, Pictorial was SmartWood-certified for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain-of-custody through the Rainforest Alliance. Among the many products currently offered, Pictorial now prints all of them on SmartWood/FSC-certified paper—brochures and reports, magazine inserts, billing statements, pamphlets, package inserts, postcards and direct mail.


Charles Pickett is a Boston-based freelance writer. Contact him at