Remember when recycled paper was easy to pick?

© N.l | Dreamstime.com

Recycled paper used to be grey with lots of flecks that would invariably end up in your printer. The one advantage was that you didn’t have to actually write ‘Printed on environmentally friendly paper stock’ on any print outs as it was so obvious.

Now most recycled paper looks much the same as ‘virgin’ paper and there are lots of options available.

For example, you can choose between different sustainable timber eco-labels (FSC®, PEFC, AFS etc*), compare the percentages of pre- or post-consumer recycled content (preferably 100% post-consumer – or less as long as any virgin or pre-consumer content is from sustainably managed plantations), and check if the suppliers have the right ISO 14001 or other environmental management systems in place.

You can also help to protect water quality by specifying ‘chlorine free’. (Totally Chlorine Free is best – or Process Chlorine Free for recycled paper as it is not re-bleached – but at least Elemental Chlorine Free.)

To top it off, you can think about where the paper was made and/or give preference based on ‘carbon miles’ (i.e. a locally made brand) – unless you work for an Australian Government agency (in which case this is not permitted under free trade obligations).

You may even want to consider uncoated paper or look for vegetable- or soy-based inks to print on your carefully chosen paper.

The Internet makes it much easier to find information about the environmental credentials of the growing number of choices that are now available – and to resist the temptation to simply buy whatever copy paper is cheapest or most convenient.

Unfortunately it can still be difficult to find up to date and objective guidance across the whole range of issues. (But at least whichever recycled paper you choose shouldn’t bugger up your printer anymore).

To find out more about environmental issues related to paper and printing, I recommend this comprehensive assessment on the Earth Greetings website.**

* The Australian Forestry Standard (AFS) is recognised by the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and provides some certainty in terms of chain of custody etc. However, it has major drawbacks in terms of environmental management and stakeholder engagement, including that products bearing this label may include content from old growth native forests.

Products certified under the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) scheme are mostly manufactured using pulp sourced from sustainably managed plantations but this accounts for a relatively small proportion of Australian forests. Click here for more info on certification schemes.

** While this is one of the best summaries I have come across on this topic, I do not necessarily support all of the author’s views or vouch for the veracity or currency of her information.

Image credit: © N.l | Dreamstime.com



Categories: Waste

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3 replies

  1. Does anyone still make virgin paper? What a waste!

    • I have spoken to suppliers who say that manufacturers like to retain the flexibility to include some virgin content even in their recycled paper products (preferably pre-consumer waste from a sustainably managed plantation and/or paper offcuts etc) as the fibres break down each time the paper is recycled and it can otherwise be hard to meet their quality standards.
      There are also impacts associated with transporting the used paper long distances to be reprocessed – especially if the contamination levels are high and mean that the paper goes into landfill anyway (possibly after being returned to where it came from). I haven’t seen the latest figures and whether water use and other externalities are considered but in some cases it may be better to compost the used paper locally and produce ‘virgin’ paper if good environmental practices are followed throughout the supply chain.
      Nothing in this space is straightforward!

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