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Make Smart Decisions About Recycled Paper

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Make Smart Decisions About Recycled Paper

July 2012

by Matt Nightingale


In the past few years, consumers have not only expressed growing concern about environmental sustainability; they have reported that they factor their concern into their purchase decisions. A 2011 survey from SCA North America and Harris Interactive notes, for instance, that “61 percent of American adults surveyed indicate they are more likely to patronize a company or business that follows green practices.”

Publishers who want to reduce the environmental footprint of their books for this reason and/or others will make the greatest headway by choosing “greener” paper. Several studies (including one by the American Forest & Paper Association) pinpoint paper production as the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in environmental life-cycle assessments of printed media such as books, magazines, and catalogs.

In most cases, the environmental impact of paper production outweighed the impact of all other life-cycle stages added together—even printing and shipping.

But publishers wanting to “green” their books face a bewildering variety of environmental paper options. Some papers are certified to come from sustainably managed forests. Others contain varying percentages of recycled fiber. Deciding which green paper is right for you involves considering several factors, including affordability, the availability of recycled alternatives, and your printer’s familiarity with printing on different types of paper.


When You’re Picking Paper

There’s no simple formula for choosing green paper. But there are three reliable guidelines for comparing the environmental sustainability of different book papers.

1. Look for the highest percentage of recycled fiber available in the kind of paper you have chosen. Studies by government agencies and leading environmental groups consistently conclude that making paper from recycled fiber is ecologically preferable to making paper from wood pulp. Paper made by recycling uses far less energy and water and many fewer chemicals than paper made from trees. Also, it produces fewer toxic emissions and reduces the demand for wood.

These benefits, described in the Environmental Paper Network’s guide titled “Understanding Recycled Fiber,” explain why government agencies and many other large paper-purchasers have adopted procurement policies mandating the use of recycled fiber.

2. Choose paper from mills designed to use high amounts of recycled fiber. Recycled papers don’t all yield the same environmental benefits. Modernized paper mills that are designed to de-ink and reuse old paper on site tend to manufacture recycled paper most efficiently. Such purpose-built mills, including the one where I work, have highly sophisticated recycling processes that maximize the amount of old paper that can be cleaned and reused. As a result, they can compete in terms of production efficiency and costs with mills that make paper from trees.

3. Ensure that all wood used in your paper is sustainably sourced. The vast majority of book papers use at least some fiber pulped from trees, and several organizations provide verification that wood used in specified paper production came from well-managed forests rather than from the clearcutting of rainforests or old-growth woodlands.

For information about the wood fiber used in paper you are considering, check whether it has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC; fsc.org), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI; sfiprogram.org) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certifications (PEFC; pefc.org).


Cost Comparisons

Environmentally sustainable book paper is often presumed to cost more, but this is not always true, especially when it comes to paper with very high recycled content. While certified paper is often priced higher than conventional paper, certain types of high-recycled paper cost about the same as nonrecycled alternatives.

That’s because mills that were purpose-built to reuse old paper can usually manufacture high-recycled paper so efficiently that their products are wholly cost-competitive with nonrecycled paper, and because high-recycled paper often costs less to produce than products containing 30 percent or lower recycled fiber.

Consider coated papers, for example—the type of paper commonly used in textbooks, cookbooks, and other pictorial books. A 30 percent recycled sheet could cost $30 to $60 more per ton than a nonrecycled sheet. However, a 90 percent coated recycled sheet would cost about the same as a nonrecycled coated sheet and less than a 30 percent recycled coated sheet.

Some paper categories—uncoated freesheet, for example—offer a broad selection of high-recycled options. Although high-recycled paper (i.e., above 80 percent recycled content) is not available in every paper category, book publishers have more recycled options than ever before.


More Help on Going Green

For practical guidance, you can contact the nonprofit Green Press Initiative. GPI and other leading environmental groups typically advise publishers to maximize the recycled content of their paper not only because of the lower environmental impact but also because recycled paper is readily understood by consumers as green.

Although greening supply chains is not new, it makes sense to take a fresh look at your paper sourcing practices in light of the many new recycled book-paper options. By making the leap to high-recycled paper, you will not only reduce the environmental impact of your books, you will help our industry pave a path to a more sustainable future.


Matt Nightingale is vice president of business development at FutureMark Paper Company, an environmental paper manufacturer making the highest recycled-content coated book paper in North America. To learn more: futuremarkpaper.com or matt.nightingale@futuremarkpaper.com.

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