Greenprint Guide to Paper and the Environment

With environmental issues now at the forefront of business decisions, how can you be sure of making the right decision about the paper you use for your business publications?  Simple - come to Greenprint!  We know the facts and can help you to manage your print production in an environmentally responsible way.  One of the first steps to making a sound environmental choice is to understand the difference between the facts and the myths which are often used to justify why recycled papers are not specified.  The following FAQs are designed to help you to make an informed decision for your business... 

Q  Does it take more energy to manufacture recycled paper?

A  No.  The complete cycle of making recycled paper uses less energy than making virgin paper if you include the energy used to fell the trees and convert them into pulp.  James McNaughton Paper state that 30-70% less energy is used, saving 30,000 litres of water and 3,000-4,000 KWh of electricity for every one tonne of recycled paper compared with virgin.  Most of the energy consumed (and CO2 produced) in making virgin paper is in converting trees into woodpulp.

Q Does the manufacture of recycled paper create more pollution than virgin paper? 
A  No.  It is difficult to generalise, but the manufacture of recycled papers often uses less chemical pollutants than making virgin paper.  Making virgin paper from chemical pulp (used in the majority of printing papers) requires more chemicals than de-inking recycled stock, but the use of oxygen bleaching in Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) papers significantly reduces pollution compared with chemical bleaching. 

Q  Doesn't the de-inking of waste paper require a lot of chemicals and energy?

A  Not really.  Depending on the grade of recycled paper and the level of ink in the waste paper, the ink may be dispersed in the pulp which requires no de-inking.  Where de-inking is required, a detergent (usually phosphate free) is used to dissolve the ink.  Most commonly air bubbles are injected into the pulp, causing ink to stick to the bubbles and rise to the surface where it is skimmed off and either burned, turned into soil conditioner or safely disposed of.  If bleaching of recycled papers is required it is usually oxygen-based and environmentally friendly.

Q  Aren't recycled papers are more expensive than virgin papers?

A  Yes, to buy a recycled paper of the equivalent brightness and smoothness of a virgin paper will usually cost more.  Premium coated recycled papers can cost up to twice as much as their non-recycled equivalent, but the extra cost of most recycled grades is more modest.  There are also some very economical recycled grades available which are competitively priced compared with non-recycled, but these tend to be at the lower quality end of the market.  But remember that paper costs usually represent less than half the cost of a printed product, so the net effect of paying more for recycled paper can sometimes be offset by cost-efficient print production.

Q  Isn't the quality of recycled papers inferior to virgin papers?

A  Not if you compare like with like!  The quality of recycled paper has improved dramatically over recent years.  The consistency of many recycled papers, both in terms of printability and aesthetic appearance, now means that printers do not differentiate in their production costings between recycled and virgin papers.  Premium recycled papers such as Revive, 9lives and Greencoat compare very favourably with  virgin double-coated Woodfree papers.  Even the more competitively-prices recycled papers are often comparable to mid-range virgin brands.

Q  Isn't it just as responsible to use environmentally friendly papers instead of recycled?

A  WRAP (the Waste Resources Action Programme) have a clear position, endorsed by Government, that recycled papers are always preferable to virgin papers.  The overriding factor is the environmental damage caused by papers not being recycled and ending up in landfill, creating methane gas as the fibres biodegrade.  Our view is that there is a need for virgin paper alongside recycled.  Paper fibres can only be re-used between 5-7 times before they become too short to be used to make new paper.  So we need new, long paper fibre to be used and recycled in order to form the base-stock for recycled papers.  Greenprint believe that virgin papers form part of the recycling chain and can be used by environment-conscious buyers, provided the paper is eco-friendly i.e. made from pulp sourced from FSC or PEFC certified managed forests and produced totally chlorine-free under either FSC or PEFC chain of custody.  End users should then be actively encouraged through advice printed on the product to recycle it after use to prevent it ending up in landfill.

Q  How can we be sure that a paper is environmentally friendly if it is not recycled?

A  Use papers which are FSC or PEFC accredited.  These internationally recognised schemes guarantee that paper has been made from trees grown in sustainable and environmentally-managed forests and that the paper mill takes on the "chain of custody" which enables batches of paper to be traced back to source.  The official logos can only be used on a printed product where the chain of custody extends unbroken to the printer, with the mill, paper merchant and printer all being registered to the standard.  There are other standards, such as Blue Angel and Nordic Swan which classify papers as being environmentally friendly, but FSC and PEFC are more widely recognised and require a chain of custody.  The definition 'made from sustainable forests' can be misleading, so it is always best to specify a paper with FSC or PEFC accreditation.

Q  Aren't trees a managed crop just like any other? 

A  Provided they are grown in a sustainable and ecologically responsible way, trees are indeed a crop, but there are many areas where trees are grown as a 'cash crop'.  Natural forests can be replaced by farming single-species trees which damages bio-diversity.  Fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides and other pesticides may be used to ensure a 'healthy' crop with consequent damage to the environment.  Although the use of hardwoods from rainforests has been virtually eliminated in European paper production, the only way to guarantee that any non-recycled paper you specify comes from truly sustainable forests is to check for FSC or PEFC accreditation. 

The Little Green Book

International Paper have produced a guide containing interesting facts and dispelling some widely-held beliefs about the sustainability of paper.  You can visit this site HERE