What To Look For
All the problems associated with paper are predicted to grow even faster in the near future, as developing countries increase their use of paper and other wood products. Our forest footprint–the amount of forested area that humans use to meet their forest-product needs–has grown by 50 percent since the early 1960s, and experts predict a 50 percent increase in the world’s paper consumption by 2010. Computer use has not produced a hoped-for reduction in paper consumption: Personal computers print out a global total of 115 billion pounds of paper each year, and the average U.S. consumer uses more than 700 pounds of paper every year–twice the European average.
Recycling saves trees and forest ecosystems, sequesters the heavy metals in inks and keeps them out of the general waste stream, saves landfill space, produces jobs, saves water and energy, and generates far fewer greenhouse gases than virgin paper production. Purchasers of recycled paper help create a market for recycled paper and incentives for the recovery of paper; the percentage of office paper currently recycled in the U.S. is a pitiful 20 percent.
Recycling skeptics often claim that paper recycling involves toxic solvents and detergents, but newer de-inking systems, now widespread in the industry, have eliminated these troublesome substances.
Look for the following labels on recycled paper:
% Post-Consumer Waste (PCW): This phrase defines what percentage of a paper is derived from consumer-generated paper that has been recycled from the solid waste stream. This is the most efficient reuse of paper, and as a rule of thumb consumers should seek out the maximum percentage of post-consumer content, as opposed to “pre-consumer” paper, which involves mill wastes and scraps.
% Recycled: This term indicates that a paper contains the specified percentage of all recycled material, including along both pre- and post-consumer content.
Tree-free paper is available made from a variety of substances, including flax and linen, tobacco leaf, agricultural stalks and straws, bamboo, coffee-bean residue, esparto grass, seaweed, bagasse (leftover sugarcane stalks), old money, old clothing and ground junk-mail. These fibers also can be combined with paper made from wood pulp and recycled even further. Currently, the chief tree-free papers include:
Kenaf: A relative of hibiscus and cotton, kenaf is an annual plant that produces more than twice the amount of fiber per acre as a pine forest. It requires few pesticides and herbicides and is naturally whiter than wood pulp–requiring, therefore, less bleaching.
Cotton: Sources are rags, old clothes and blue jeans, and waste cotton from cotton mills. Fortunately, most paper efficiently uses industrial by-products and post-consumer waste that would otherwise be garbage. At least one company, Green Fields, makes organic cotton paper products.
Hemp: Hemp produces excellent fibers for paper–at least twice as much fiber as pine. It requires few chemicals to grow and, like kenaf, is naturally lighter in color than wood pulp.
Chlorine-free paper processing uses less than one tenth as much water, according to the Chlorine Free Products Association. Look for paper bearing the following CFPA certifications:
TCF: Totally Chlorine Free, for virgin (non-recycled) paper that is unbleached or processed without the use of chlorine or chlorine derivatives
PCF: Processed Chlorine Free, for recycled paper in which the recycled content is not further bleached with chlorine or chlorine derivatives; any virgin material portion of the paper must be TCF.
ECF: Elemental Chlorine Free, for paper bleached with a chlorine derivative, such as chlorine dioxide; ECF reduces emissions compared to chlorine gas, but still produces dioxins, furans, and other organochlorines as by-products. PCF and TCF are much preferable.
Third Party Certifications
Green Seal is an independent, non-profit organization that strives to achieve a healthier and cleaner environment by identifying and promoting products and services that cause less toxic pollution and waste, conserve resources and habitats, and minimize global warming and ozone depletion. Green Seal both recommends paper products that meet its criteria, and certifies paper products when manufacturers submit to inspections to verify their production processes.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) can certify that the pulp used to make paper originates from well-managed forests with intact, healthy ecosystems.