Recycled paper has long been considered as the paper of choice for eco-friendly businesses and consumers. It takes no explanation to understand the benefits to recycled paper and this can be stated to customers to demonstrate the moral fibre of an organisation.
But when you dig a little deeper you find that recycled paper is a more complex area than you may have first thought. It’s not as simple as recycled being a better source than new ‘virgin’ stocks due to changes in the industry and the processes involved. There is no doubt that recycling anything is better than piling up landfills or burning waste, but virgin paper will always play a vital role within the paper industry.
Now that a larger number of businesses are seeking ethical paper sources, it is even more important to understand the facts around the choices available, as new paper can be ethical too.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) where officially established back in 1994 and since then have been working tirelessly to improve the paper industry. They created a minimum standard for the paper manufacturing chain and will provide certification for those that comply with these requirements.
Gaining FSC recognition is not as simple as planting some trees every-time you cut one down. There are ten principles and these go far beyond simply managing tree plantations:
1: Compliance with laws and FSC Principles
2: Tenure and use rights and responsibilities
3: Indigenous peoples’ rights
4: Community relations and worker’s rights
5: Benefits from the forest
6: Environmental impact
7: Management plan
8: Monitoring and assessment
9: Maintenance of high conservation value forests
Abiding by these principles means managing the impact of deforestation on wildlife, preserving natural forest integrity and considering the wider impact of forest management on the environment.
Environmental impact also covers the damage to surrounding land, such as flooding of lowland areas and downriver from logging activity. These are factors often overshadowed in discussions by the depleting ozone layer and global climate change but they have a significant impact on locals. FSC require companies to look after the local people surrounding the plantation, providing fair employment conditions and respecting their land ownership where appropriate.
By using FSC certified new paper stocks you are supporting environmentally sustainable plantations whilst also developing socially ethical business practices in their locations.
However, virgin paper is rarely made from 100% new wood chippings. Because the fibres in recycled paper have already been broken down once from their original wood-chip state, it is more efficient to use a small quantity of recycled pulp in the initial stages of papermaking. So the majority of new paper stocks do contain a certain quantity or recycled paper. The significant factor here is the source of the recycled paper. In this instance the recycled paper is predominantly the waste created from the paper making process. This is collected by the mill and put back through the machines, making it pre-consumer waste.
If you were looking at paper that specifies its recycled content, the quantity sourced from post-consumer waste, i.e. household or businesses recycling collections. This is the recycled paper source that will make the most significant difference to the environment. In the UK, 81% of paper produced is recycled. Clearly there are some paper products that are either not recyclable due to use such as wax coated paper, or are products for long term use like books.
Recycled paper also comes in a variety of content ratings. The majority of certified recycled paper stock has between 50% and 80% recycled content. This is due to the need for long fibres to give strength to the paper but the recycling process shortens the fibres every time it is pulped. As a result of the fibres shortening each time, paper can only be recycled a maximum of 7 times.
On a positive note, new technology and improved processes now mean recycled paper is virtually indistinguishable from virgin stock. You can also use it in most situations and with the majority of printing systems.
It is, however, still more expensive for professional printing papers. Paper with a 50-80% post consumer waste content is 10% more expensive than virgin stocks with 100% recycled content being 25% more expensive. Prices are dropping as more and more people seek out recycled paper sources and it is produced in greater quantities but it is important to remember that paper recycling has a limited number or cycles. With that in mind, virgin stocks are still required to ensure consistent supplies of long fibres are available for recycling.
If you are seeking an ethical paper source for your business you could choose either FSC or recycled stocks. Depending on your business needs you could have a combination of paper sources, using FSC for particular professional printing jobs and recycled paper in the office.
Whatever paper sources you choose, collecting your waste paper for recycling is not only an important environmental factor, it is also your legal responsibility. From January this year, all households and business have been required to separate their recyclable materials (paper, metal and glass) from other waste. This was brought about by the EU Waste Framework Directive and you can read more here.