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.


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Supply Brothers said...

This is a terrific article. Well said! Reycled office suppiles have become much easier to buy. In fact, my company, Supply Brothers, sells a good deals of recycled supplies. You can find over 2,000 recycled supplies. We ship from all 50 states. Fuel is not being wasted when you order, because our warehouses aren't far in distance. Feel free to view our site for recycled office supplies.

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takeshi007 said...

Actually you can still use recycled office papers and you can use it as your scratch paper.

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Allan Murray said...

From your title question, recycled office paper abounds. Now, coupon bond, stationery, cardboard and postcards were made of recycled paper. On top of that, shredded paper from Paper Shredder can be a bountiful source.

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Latoya Smith said...

Great post. Over the years I’ve ordered dozens of catalogs that were printed with less than expected quality, some being downright scrappy. A couple months ago my company in Hobe Sound FL, printed some catalogs with PCA Delta and they were great. I’ve been printing with them ever since. They show care for the environment by using soy based inks, plus recycled papers are available upon request. If you need items printed on recycled paper go to I strongly recommend them.

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