Thursday, September 20, 2007

Your Attention Please

My favorite part of the flight: You get on an airplane and the flight attendant wants your undivided attention and then proceeds to announce "...and for the benefit of those passengers who have not been in an automobile since 1966, we will now demonstrate how to buckle and release a seatbeat".

I'm with all those who say we have really dumbed-down the entire world.

So why on earth do we have to--in 2007--have a press release from a major envelope manufacturer touting that they are going to print "please recycle" on customers envelopes, like they are contributing some major breakthrough on human planetary behavior?

The fact is that the envelope company doing this actually produces some very real environmentally beneficial envelopes, using recycled paper or sustainable certified virgin paper, alternative energy offsets or other programs...truthfully not for all (or even the majority) of the envelopes they produce, but enough that they have created a market that can readily provide environmentally beneficial envelopes to customers who want them...and that customer base is growing.

My point is that the please recycle stuff is a distraction from the real efforts that are needed to improve the environmental impact of paper production and consumption. It certainly pales in comparison to actually using recycled paper to produce the envelopes.

The "please recycle" campaign is sponsored by The Envelope Manufacturers Association, The Direct Market Association and The Magazine Publishers of America.

Well, OK --Clap, Clap, Clap, -- Good show! Something is being done!

Now check your guns at the door, put that baby in a car seat, don't smoke in the's 2007 for crying out loud!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spin & Buzzzzzzz

Quite a buzz with Monday’s press release of the new “greener” High Yield Business Paper being marketed by Xerox. Is there true hoopla to be made about this being greener paper? Well, yes there is a considerable amount of reduction in raw material used to produce mechanical pulp, there is no denying that. In fact I have high hopes for mechanical pulp being used for paper production, in place of kraft pulp. But while the press release claims this is some “First-Of-Its-Kind Paper”, I remember another brand that was “flop-of-its-kind” some years back.

Plus any press release nowadays that has the word greener in quotes (third paragraph of the press release) is something for the jaundiced eye.

However, unlike the recent claims of being carbon neutral made by some pulp mills that suddenly want to tout the fact that they burn biomass (“for years we burned biomass, but today we burn biomass and are carbon neutral”), there actually is something here to this mechanical pulp yield issue…a point some in the paper industry feel they haven’t been given credit for environmentally.

Mechanical pulp (ground, thermo-pulverized and similar processed pulp that does not remove lignin) requires less wood input compared to kraft pulp (chemical process pulp that removes lignin). So yes, less trees. And many of the mechanical pulp processes use less chemical brightening; can use alternatives to chlorine compounds such as peroxide, and can use less calcium carbonate, titanium dioxide and other brighteners.

So if a paper user replaces kraft pulp paper with a mechanical pulp paper, there could indeed be significantly less environmental impact. But mechanical paper has to replace kraft paper.

Some mills claim that because they make mechanical pulp they should be given credit for producing an environmentally beneficial product. Well, no--that is what they produce--did yesterday and will tomorrow. If a mill producing kraft pulp suddenly switched to producing mechanical pulp and thus reduced the amount of wood input--well then, they may actually have a point. But similar to the issue of biomass burning mills claiming to be suddenly carbon neutral…there has to be an actual sea-change in production method, not just the sudden “light-bulb-going-off” that they are green and carbon neutral. (Light bulb usually goes off in the marketing department).

So is this Xerox High Yield Business Paper really new? Well, it’s new in that Xerox has found a product they are willing to put the Xerox brand name on. Mechanical pulp office papers have been around for years…18lb tractor-feed computer paper, 18lb. groundwood forms bond…and a favorite of mine some 15 years ago, an office/copy paper called Unity DP, which was produced by the Hammermill division of International Paper (IP).

Unity DP was not only a mechanical pulp paper, it was also entirely recycled content, produced at the IP mill in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania. The paper was made from recycled newspapers and magazines. Prior to IP marketing Unity DP, the method to produce recycled mechanical office paper was developed by Steinbeis Temming of Germany and was marketed under the brand name Recyconomic. Not only was Unity DP high recycled content…it sold for the dirt-cheap price of $18-20 per carton, considerably less than most virgin office paper. It was so cheap that schools, nonprofits and other budget conscious paper users would buy it up.

Sadly, IP discontinued producing Unity DP in 1998 and dismantled the deinking mill in Lockhaven, claiming the product never caught on with the paper buying public. Bizarrely, IP made one last parting shot in the announcement of the brand’s demise, claiming the failure of the brand on the over-zealous promises of environmentalists that there would be a market for the paper. Meanwhile, school districts around the country struggle to be able to afford office paper.

In recent years the kraft pulp office and printing paper market has focused on producing heavier basis weights (24lb in place of 20lb), and brighter white papers (92 GE bright, up from 84 GE standard of 3 years ago). So to see Xerox market a brand that is less bright, lighter weight and made with mechanical pulp is a good thing. But Xerox is hardly the first kid on the block with this. Years ago, Abitibi-Consolidated, a newsprint producing giant, started producing mechanical pulp offset papers that compete with kraft pulp offset printing papers, under the brand names Equal and Alternative Offset. Bowater (which is merging with Abitibi) produces a similar brand, BowHybrid. So the story is not as new as the Xerox press release makes out.

The mechanical paper in place of kraft paper market is growing.

What would be good is if mechanical papers can replace kraft paper used for such low-life-span items such as utility bills, direct mail and other easily tossed items. Maybe someone will produce similar mechanical office paper that can be purchased by cash-strapped school districts. And more important, if recycled fiber can again be the source of some of that mechanical pulp.

Last, to address an issue that plagued the Unity DP brand. Some recycling advocates found fault with mechanical paper being mingled with kraft paper in office paper collection programs. True, mechanical paper will downgrade the quality and usefulness of white paper collected in office paper recycling programs. However, when used for direct mail and utility bills, much of this mechanical paper will end up in residential collection programs, which are a tangled mix of paper grades that are not destined for high-grade deinking mills that need sorted, clean white paper. And used in schools--well most schools I have seen recycle using the same collection methods used for residential recycling collection, not those found in office building collection programs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Choice…you choose

I was actually considering letting this one go, however since I am continually bombarded with the question of what is the best choice for the environment when looking for paper, here goes.

Recycled content, certified virgin fiber, or advanced and more benign pulp bleaching methods. Which is best?

Making it easy is a concise discussion of the topic produced by a colleague at Conservatree.

And various other organizations offer their explanations of desirable paper production characteristics, such as the Common Vision for Transforming the Paper Industry, created by the Environmental Paper Network.

So considering these and other long-established criteria that call for recycled fiber to be incorporated into truly sustainable paper production, it disconcerting to see how recycled fiber is given short-shift lately in the growing marketplace for environmental paper.

Recycled fiber is admittedly never going to be able to fully replace the need for creation of virgin fiber. But the sad truth is that less than 6% of the pulp used for the production of paper in the significant printing & writing paper sector (27% of the total market) is recycled fiber. Office paper, printing paper for books, magazines, catalogs, direct mail, advertising and envelopes: little of this sector uses recycled fiber. Simply put, we need more demand for the use of recovered paper to be used in paper production. Recovered paper has been proven to be a sustainable and reliable source of feedstock to create new paper. Mixed with virgin fiber, there is a proven track record that recycled fiber is the cornerstone of sustainable environmental paper. Unfortunately, there is currently an extremely small amount of global recovered paper deinking capacity available to produce the quality recycled kraft pulp used in fine paper production. Hopefully, demand will create incentive for opportunities to expand deinked pulp production considering the renewed interest in the recycled and environmental paper market.

Virgin fiber will also continue to be incorporated into pulp and paper production. For that portion of feedstock source, it is necessary for sustainable production and certification programs to ensure claims of sustainability are adhered to. Currently there are a myriad of competing certification schemes with confusing (to the paper-buying public) acronyms. Common sense will likely win out, consolidating these redundant systems, and credible third-party certification systems will hopefully prevail. The most promising of these is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

In the meantime, it would be good for paper buyers to continue to focus on the need to increase the amount of recovered (recycled) fiber used in overall paper production. A less than 6% market share for recycled fiber is abysmal if paper production and paper consumption are to be sustainable.

So I was taken aback by last week’s joint participatory press release by Domtar, Office Depot and FSC certifying bodies touting the increased distribution of the EarthChoice Office Paper brand. In the press release, there appears no mention of the word “recycled.” Recycled-content office paper has been the one promising product with increased market share for recycled fiber, notably because office paper is the one portion of the printing & writing segment that is most directly impacted by individual choice.

So “Earth” and “Choice” don’t seem to go together here.

Certified sustainable virgin fiber is important, but not as a total replacement for using recycled fiber. Some make arguments for entirely certified virgin fiber paper, citing the severe lack of deinked recycled pulp available on today’s market. But an argument could also be made for the entire replacement of kraft pulp paper with mechanical pulp paper, therefore avoiding the use of recycled or virgin certified pulp altogether. (Mechanical pulp is almost twice as efficient in resource use as kraft pulp.)

But we shouldn’t make these arguments. The real focus should be on increasing the incorporation of recovered, recycled, deinked fiber into printing and writing paper production. Unlike a statement in the press release mentioned above: recycled fiber is the “gold standard” for environmental paper.

FSC: good guys

Domtar: good guys using certified sustainable fiber (and sometimes recycled fiber)

Mills using deinked fiber: double good guys

Office Depot: good guys, thanks for increasingly making environmental paper available.
(homework for Office Depot: read the blog post from April 23rd to understand why ECF bleached paper is nothing to make special note of in your product listing---there is "green"... and then there is "mandatory."

So, choose to buy paper with recycled fiber, right now that is what the market needs.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Neighborhood Crime Watch

At my local big chain office supply store:
Store brand 20lb. 8.5x11 copy paper
- $3.69 per 500 sheet ream
Store brand recycled content 20lb. 8.5x11 copy paper
- $5.59 per 500 sheet ream

And recycled content here is not the more expensive 100% postconsumer recycled--this is standard 30%-35% postconsumer recycled!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Billions Served…My Cup Runneth Over!

This question was recently proposed to me:

I need help with information on recycleable paper cups. Our [organization] owns a large supply of ceramic cups, but members don't like washing dishes and would like to promote recycled content cups as an alternative. Doesn't sound good to me from the point of view of waste.

This request mixes several questions together, so I will attempt to untangle them. First the issue of the “recyclable” cup. Most hot beverage cups made from paper are coated with a plastic substance such as polyethylene to provide a barrier to prevent the liquid from seeping through. This plastic coating usually makes such cups unrecyclable, as plastic is a contaminant in typical recycling systems. Additionally, food and grease- tainted paper is not desirable to have in pulping systems that recycle recovered paper. So those of you who are throwing the used pizza boxes in the recycling bin -- good intentions, but it’s not really helping out. Some of that food-contaminated paper can be composted, but not the plastic coated (polyethylene and such) cups and plates.

International Paper Company, in conjunction with Green Mountain Coffee Company, has developed a hot beverage cup that is coated with a corn-based barrier that can be composted…“under the right conditions”. This compostable paper cup is marketed under the brand name “Ecotainer”.

An amazing fact was brought out in news releases for the Ecotainer cup. Americans go through 15 billion -- yes “B,” billion -- disposable hot beverage cups per year. And market projections are to reach 23 billion disposable cups per year by the year 2010!

Now not all disposable cups are paper-based; there are, for example, the polystyrene (Styrofoam) cups, such as the 800 million used by Dunkin Donuts outlets each year.

Now to the issue of recycled content.

Starbucks was reported to be using in excess of 1.7 billion paper cups per year. To their credit, Starbucks has started to use 10% postconsumer recycled content in their cups. This is possible because Starbucks’ cups contain some deinked recycled kraft pulp, the same type of pulp used in printing & writing paper, bath tissue, paper towels and some packaging material. Unfortunately, there is only about 1.6 million tons of deinked kraft pulp available in North America -- which is a very small portion compared to the 30 million or more tons of timber pulp that just these few sectors of the paper market require. The current ability to create more beverage cups with recycled content is limited considering all the copy paper, bath tissue and other grades of paper that also seek to use recycled kraft fiber.

So for this organization, the question becomes, are there recycled content paper coffee cups they can obtain? Well, if you are Starbucks, the answer is yes. For anyone else, right now they are not on the shelf. The type of paper these cups use is the same type of paperboard that milk cartons use (SBS), which right now is not geared to utilize recycled paper.

However, Starbucks has proved it can be done. But we need more recycled kraft pulp capacity in North America to be able to expand the market.

But really, it begs the question of the need for a disposable cup in a situation such as this. The organization already has a supply of durable coffee cups that would only have to be washed. Similar to the debate of cloth vs. disposable diapers, there certainly are situations where convenience is an issue. So, while reports state that more than 60% of all coffee is brewed at home where we can easily use a ceramic coffee cup, we still go through an astounding 15 billion disposable cups per year, which again is expected to increase by 63% in the next few years.

Well slap my lowfat-decaf-soy-chai-latte drinkin’ self if I add to that!

We can all look for techno-fixes; buy carbon energy offsets and other feel good alternatives to solve the problems of global warming, pollution and unsustainable consumption. Or, maybe we should just start with simple ideas such as put forward by Jimmy Carter: “put a sweater on”. So, in this case, wash the cups…and put a smile on while you do it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Chlorine Free Paper – Caveat Emptor

For crying out loud, I just heard about another group getting jacked on a request for chlorine free paper. Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) paper was presented as filling the bill. This happens way too much. People need to understand this issue.

Here is the simple and straightforward on how this happens. A paper buyer is concerned about the issue of chlorine use in pulp production and would like to minimize any impact by selecting paper using the most benign method to chemically produce and whiten pulp.

This is where it gets tricky. Common paper marketing terminology uses several phrases, Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF), Process Chlorine Free (PCF) and Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).

Ahhh…but all of these phrases have the words “Chlorine Free”…that’s the key…it is the first word in the phrase that needs to be focused on. Too many times paper buyers just hear the “chlorine free” part.

Chlorine Free…sounds good right? But what’s the difference?

Well, here is where I am going to bale on explaining the complexities of the bonding characteristics of chlorine, organochlorines, dioxin, furans, 2,3,7,8-TCDD and 2,3,7,8-TCDF and everything else. If you want a science lesson, this ain’t the place. For the explanations about all that, seek out other experts…maybe the guy who did all those swell Bell Lab science movies I saw in school, like “Our Friend Mister Sun.” This isn’t a science lesson, it’s an ENGLISH lesson.

Starting back in the mid 1980’s there was a lot of concern about the interaction of chlorine and the formation of dioxin in the discharge at pulp mills. The US EPA took some action and much of the North American kraft pulp industry opted to replace existing chlorine gas use with other methods that were more acceptable under guidelines called “Cluster Rules”. The industry’s standpoint is that they were adopting “best available technology” to satisfy the requirements of the Cluster Rules. That best available technology chosen by and large are these Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) bleaching systems.

Now cleaning up any process is going to involve debate about what goes far enough and what is acceptable. In 1906, Upton Sinclair wrote a muckraking blockbuster, The Jungle, about conditions in the meat packing industry. Claims that meat, and particularly sausage of the day, contained vermin, feces and even the occasional human body part, caused an uproar. The meat industry could not actually say there was an “acceptable level” of the above mentioned nastiness; the public demanded the industry fully correct the problem. The Federal government passed the Pure Food & Drug Act. Whether the meat industry and the government did or did not do enough about it is debatable. However, no doubt there were consumers who chose to be more selective (maybe even became vegetarians).

So with paper, there are selective customers, some of whom want chlorine free paper. But the industry’s terminology may not meet the public’s understanding of what chlorine free means.

So here is the simple breakdown.

Most of the North American industry that uses timber for feedstock to make kraft pulp has converted to using Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) bleaching processes, usually meaning chlorine dioxide is the active chemical compound used. ECF may meet the standards for acceptable non-detection of dioxin, depending on the scale of measurement, but the chemicals, such as chlorine dioxide, are actual compounds and derivatives of chlorine. There are also varying degrees of ECF, some better than others, such as Enhanced ECF (which involves Peroxide, Oxygen or Ozone in conjunction with Chlorine Dioxide).

Currently, I know of only one timber based North American kraft pulp mill using a non-chlorine, Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) system, however that pulp is exported. In Europe, timber based kraft pulp from mills with actual TCF systems is more widely available.

Process Chlorine Free (PCF) systems are common for kraft pulp in North America at the few mills that produce pulp from deinking, meaning the recycling of recovered paper. Most of the PCF kraft pulp and paper currently available in North America comes out of these deinking pulp mills. However, that does not mean that every deinking mill is PCF. I have certainly encountered one deinking pulp operation that says its system uses Hypochlorite, which is not PCF. PCF would involve Peroxide, Hydrosulfite, Oxygen, or Ozone.

So the bottom line is, if you request chlorine free paper, be sure the paper provider can tell you what they mean by “Chlorine Free”. Ask what is used in the bleaching process.

If they reply Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF), they refer to systems not using chlorine gas, but likely involve chlorine derivatives. And be aware that almost every timber based North American kraft pulp mill is ECF…meaning not much special.

If Process Chlorine Free (PCF), that means the pulp is likely recycled fiber…a good thing. It could also be a combination of TCF virgin pulp and PCF recycled pulp. But just to be sure, it may be good to ask what are the chemicals involved. Peroxide, Hydrosulfite, Ozone or Oxygen are key words to listen for.

Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) paper, right now, would likely have to come from pulp or paper imported from Europe and it would refer to virgin paper.

These situations are particular to kraft papers. Mechanical paper in North America, can be made with pulps, such as BCTMP, which can have peroxide bleaching methods.

There is a lot to know about this to really understand the issue. Actually, don’t go rent “Our Friend Mister Sun”, instead check out these guys for further information:

Reach for Unbleached

Natural Resources Council of Maine


Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA)

The rampant confusion about pulp bleaching certainly cries out for an overseeing third party program. The above mentioned CFPA does certification of pulp bleaching systems for chlorine free claims.

In the meantime regarding bleaching – ask for specifics about the process – don’t be hoodwinked.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ask Where Your Paper is From!

I am learning about this blog stuff and one thing is you have to keep it up to date. So sorry if you tuned in and it hasn’t been fresh.

There are a lot of good information sources out there on the web and from time-to-time I will help spread the word about them.

The first I’d like to mention is the Environmental Paper Network’s
The Paper Planet Blog. With posts by Papyrus, Southern Q and others, the website is a go-to place to find out about new developments with environmental paper and serious issues that could harm development of the environmental paper markets. A few weeks back The Paper Planet posted links to the April 1, Washington Post front-page article on the impacts of the paper producing boom and timber trade in China.

Right now China is ramping up exports of newsprint and coated printing papers to the US. Less than 10 years ago newsprint and coated paper trade was flowing from North America to Asia, but now that is reversing. While China does have considerable capacity to produce recycled content newsprint, virtually no capacity exists to produce recycled content papers used for commercial printing of magazines, catalogs, gloss advertising papers and the like. And that type of virgin paper is arriving in the US from China with increasing frequency. So ask where your paper is from.

Thanks to The Paper Planet blog for the nod a few weeks back concerning the start of this blog. The posting paired me with Leonardo DiCaprio as eco leaders! Hey big difference is that Leonardo can make money with his good looks…and I don’t appear on 687 tons of paper posing with polar bears (May issue of Vanity Fair).

Happy Earth Day everyone.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Lowdown on Tree-Free Paper

Every week I get several calls or e-mails about hemp paper…but considering the number of calls I get, actual interest in creating a market for such a product seems to involve more smoke than a Cheech & Chong movie.

OK, before the Hemp Army descends on me let me say this: I grew up in the Haight Ashbury before the Summer of Love started, I remember my grandmother calling the Flower Children who slept on her fire escape “juvenile delinquents”, which I mistakenly heard as “juvenile Lincolns”…(whatever that could be)…but it was cool with me and we had the double-door split-windshield VW bus…man, we were the real deal hippies before anyone…and we knew better than to try to smoke a banana. -- Gotta establish my hippie credentials here.

Anyway, all this to say, yes I’ve talked to countless people about tree-free paper over the years and wide spread consumer support for tree-free paper from my point of view has essentially been a lot of talk. Simply put: If the hybrid vehicle market depended on the tire-kickers who inquire about tree-free paper, we would all be driving V-8s for years to come.

I want to be clear that there are some very dedicated producers and marketers of nonwood papers. People who have put heart and soul to making tree-free paper a reality. For the most part the standard paper-making industry has ignored alternative fiber, other than the existing market for high-end cotton correspondence paper. What does currently exist in the alternative fiber paper market is out there due to the forward thinking and perseverance of a handful of individuals, not major paper producing corporations. People like Tom Rymsza, Carolyn Moran, Odette Kalman, Harry Johansing, Jeff Lindenthal and Rick Smith. If you are looking for treefree, alternative fiber, nonwood paper…it would be a good idea to support these guys and buy their products. Right now Paper Inc. ain’t really doing much as far as creating an infrastructure to utilize nonwood pulp.

Follow this link to a piece I wrote for the Conservatree website. If you truly want tree-free paper, this is the guide to the current supply of alternative fiber papers. I really do believe that hemp and other nonwood fibers have great promise for the future of paper making. I may have started out giving the needle to the hemp paper advocates, but as you will see, I really reserve the jaundiced eye for the “environmentalists” who proposed plastic as a reasonable substrate for printed mass communications.

If you find I have left off some nonwood alternative paper producer from the piece, by all means please contact me…and we can hash it out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How Ya Gonna Find Recycled Office Paper?

Some years back I was driving to the one location in San Francisco that I knew for certain sold 100% postconsumer recycled copy paper. Halfway across town I thought, “How ridiculous is this?” Was the environmental impact of the drive defeating the purpose of trying to sustain the market for recycled paper? Back then obtaining ream quantities of recycled copy paper on a retail level was not a simple task—you had to know where to go.

So where do you obtain recycled paper if you need it by the ream or carton?

Lucky for me, one of the office supply superstores within walking distance now carries a good selection of recycled content office papers, including one brand that is 100% postconsumer recycled. Today, most paper users in the U.S. should be able to easily find recycled content copy paper.

Generally speaking, recycled content paper has not had substantial market share growth in the past 10 – 15 years. Right now, only about 5% of the pulp used to create printing and office paper in North America is made with deinked recovered paper. The other 95% still comes from timber that is pulped or some small amount of preconsumer recycled fiber. Most of the paper collected in residential curbside and business recycling programs is recycled into packaging, newsprint or tissue, both here in North America, and increasingly, in overseas markets such as China. Very little gets made into office and printing paper. In fact, some of the mills that make commodity commercial printing papers have recently cut back on the percentage of deinked pulp used in their recycled brands.

However, one of the really positive developments for environmental paper markets in the past few years has been the increase in availability of some types of recycled paper to consumers. This category of paper is sold as “copy," “laser," “inkjet," “multipurpose” and other similar applications. In the industry the grade is known as “reprographic” or “office paper”.

A major reason for this increased availability has been the result of agreements brought about by The Paper Campaign, an effort led by environmental organizations Forest Ethics and the Dogwood Alliance, to have major paper distributors offer more recycled content paper and paper products in their stores. This effort has been extremely successful and is no doubt the reason why we can now easily obtain recycled content office paper more readily.

Still, to maintain this availability, these products have to prove themselves as having market demand. Stocking the product in the store alone will not sustain the market for recycled paper products. The second part of the equation requires the consumer. Customers need to intentionally select and purchase recycled content paper.

But how do you know where and what to buy?

Some outlets are doing an outstanding job informing customers of recycled and environmental paper options. Many have recycled products available, to varying degrees—and still others could do a much better job of presenting recycled paper products.

The websites and product catalogs for the major office supply distributors do a good job of highlighting and profiling recycled products using the Mobius Loop (the recycled chasing arrows logo) on products and listing recycled content percentages. Some go further with search functions to narrow the selection to recycled products or bundling environmental products together, such as in Office Depot’s “Green Book” office products catalog. These centralized marketing devices make it easy to put environmental papers “on the menu”.

Where the major distributors fall short in promoting recycled paper products is at the walk-in “brick and mortar” retail stores. Some product wrappers do have recycled logos and content percentages; however the products are usually interspersed with a myriad of non-recycled products. Customers are required to literally get on their knees to scrutinize product labels. Shelf tags, when they exist, often offer very limited information to guide consumers. Store staff I have encountered have little in-depth knowledge of the paper products, likely the result of having thousands of products in stock and reserving information for items such as electronics, software and other more complex big-ticket items. In fact the positioning of reams of paper is classic loss leader marketing—always available but not as important to the bottom line as say, ink cartridges, digital cameras or office furniture.

So what is the best option to obtain recycled content office paper?

The best, most complete offerings appear to be through website or catalog purchasing. Selection and availability may be best through this avenue. However the fragile nature of the edges of ream wrapped paper could cause the product to suffer going through some non-direct delivery systems, and would require some additional, substantial protective packaging.

The walk-in retail establishments may offer a more limited selection, but require less packaging and may be best if the location is convenient. The larger of the walk-in retail outlets may require customers to be fairly well informed about which product they would prefer and what to look for.

Conservatree has created a very good listing of recycled content office papers—brands to look for and what the recycled content is. The listing is a selection of national and regional brands, many of which are marketed as reams directly to end-users. Large businesses and institutions such as universities purchase in greater quantities. Therefore the list does not include all private label, JWOD, WMBE or other branded products that may be available for large contracts or bids.

Conservatree also has created a very good primer on what to look for on product labels when choosing recycled paper.

Here are some other tips:

Standard Weight Paper

Most paper in this grade has usually been 20lb and proven to perform well. There is a lot of marketing of the heavier 24lb papers, which are 16% more fiber by weight. For general printing, 20lb paper works fine—it also costs less and requires less material to produce.

Create a Market

For years the advice to create a market and promote demand has been to let distributors know you want recycled paper…let the store manager know that you, the customer, would like them to carry it. This is a good idea and likely works well at local, independent retailers where they control the product selection. At the major chain distributors, the reality is that product selection is probably determined by the SKU barcodes that are scanned in at the checkout. Product stocking is influenced by the bean-counters at headquarters. So the best advice may be, at these locations, to find a brand you like and stick with it. One of the major knocks by the paper industry over the years has been that recycled paper is a fad. To create a market, consumers need to prove loyal customer demand. I remember the first branded 100% postconsumer recycled copy papers on the market…those brands are no longer made, likely due to perceived lack of demand.

Hot Tip

April 22 is coming up—Earth Day. Unfortunately, in many cases Earth Day gets treated as just another consumer marketing device. Yeah, just like Christmas. Oh well. For sure the major office supply distributors will trot out any and everything with a recycled logo that day. Check the store circulars in the newspapers that week—bound to be some good specials on recycled paper, so stock up—and don’t forget to bring in those ink cartridges to recycle.

Start of this Blog

I hope to be able to answer questions and stir the conversation about environmental papers

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Hope you find this informative.