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Paper: from forests to wastebaskets ... and back!

It's easy to become overwhelmed when you start looking into using recycled paper. In the last few years, recycled papers have become available for more purposes, in more weights, colors and brightnesses than ever before. But everyone has learned more about the process of creating recycled paper, too, which adds to the confusion.

What this means is that to make intelligent decisions, based on your own motivations (Are you trying to save trees? Or do you need to present a greener face to your publics? Are you just trying to "do the right thing?"), you just about have to become an expert yourself.

And in this quest for expertise, you find that another set of issues emerges: discoveries and questions about inks, printing processes, waste disposal, landfills, forestry - and yes, even air pollution.

On the next few pages, you will find a diagram offering a brief overview of the process of creating - and recycling paper. Around this "map" are a handful of terms and some of their pros and cons, listed to help you ask informed questions in your search for options.

CHLORINE BLEACHING - in recent months you may have noticed the increasing availability of "chlorinefree" or "unbleached" products such as coffee filters and paper towels. One of the byproducts of using chlorine in certain steps of the papermaking process is dioxin, which has been implicated as a carcinogen.


- uncoated papers are typically used for letterhead and forms, while coated stocks are used for magazines (such as this one) and glossy brochures (annual reports, for instance). In the past few years, the design community has embraced uncoated recycled papers in innovarive colors, textures and characteristics as a new design tool. These papers are increasingly popular for annual reports, catalogs, product labels and more.

In the recycling debate, one drawback to using coated papers is that they are not as recyclable as others. This is because a larger percentage of the weight of coated stock is composed of non-fibrous materials, such as the clays and starches used for coating. For the recycling companies, then, coated papers are not as cost-effective to recycle, per ton, as might be newsprint or other uncoated papers, and thus fewer recyclers accept coated papers. While switching to uncoated recycled stock for more projects seems like the obvious solution, printers often resist because they need to adapt their presses to the paper's limitations, which takes time (which equals money). Also, consumers still favor glossy white paper.

COST - in a slumping economy, with demand for paper - and especially virgin paper - falling, paper companies must drastically reduce their paper prices to stay in business. The large paper companies are most efficient when making virgin paper, constantly and in huge quantities. When demand for recycled paper goes up, along with competition with smaller mills (which can more readily respond to the demand for recycled paper), the big companies are forced to cut their virgin paper prices even more. This is one factor that can make recycled paper a more expensive option. But do your research! Some recycled papers are less expensive than virgin papers.

DE-INKING - to make bright white paper from waste paper that has been printed, the inks have to be removed and disposed of. (See inks and sludge. )

DIOXIN - a toxic compound linked to cancer in animals and humans, created in the process of bleaching wood pulp.

INKS- two of the primary components of inks are pigments and vehicles. Pigments commonly contain heavy metals, many of which are toxic to humans and animals. Problems arise especially in disposing of the sludge collected in the de-inking process. Vehicles are usually petroleum-based, and when these petroleum oils evaporate during printing, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released, contributing to the formation of ambient ozone, or smog. Alternatives include substituting soy-based or other vegetable-based oils, but inks don't dry well when those oils constitute more than about 15 percent of the ink, a major concern in heat-set web printing, and on coated stocks. And some printers collect the VOCs and condense them back into oil, which can be burned as heating oil. Leftover inks can be sent back to the ink producers, who reformulate them for reuse.

LANDFILL - for instance, in the U.S., only one-third of today's remaining landfill space is projected to be available in 1995. In the next 20 years, 20 percent of the remaining space is predicted to be available.

OZONE - a form of air pollution in the lower atmosphere. The evaporation of VOCs in the printing process, and the use of petroleum-based solvents in cleaning presses, contribute to the formation of ozone, which contributes to the "greenhouse effect."

POST-CONSUMER WASTEpaper that has been discarded by an end-user, from paper bags, to newspapers, to magazines and catalogs, to office paper. This is the most important material to recycle to save landfill space. It is also the type of recycled paper content specified the least often by paper companies.

PRE-CONSUMER WASTEalso called "secondary waste," "post-mill waste," "post-commercial waste" and "post-industry waste." Refers to waste from paper mills. Paper companies have always been using this kind of waste in making paper - not to do so would be inefficient and costly for them. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines even allow sawdust to be considered in this definition of recycled paper. Some definitions include waste from printers (e.g., bad print jobs, extra printed matter) that gets sent back to the paper mill and de-inked.

PULPING - wood must be made into pulp before it can become paper, and paper that is being recycled into new paper must be made into pulp. There are various methods of pulping, with a wide range of side-effects.

RECYCLED PAPER - a much less precise term than many people realize. Recycled can mean anything from sawdust to post-consumer waste. The EPA stipulates that recycled paper must contain 50 percent waste paper by fiber, but does not specify that any portion must be post-consumer waste. The EPA guidelines only apply to U.S. federal government paper procurement. Some individual states govern paper content by enacting labeling laws.

Another issue is whether content is measured by weight or by fiber. Weight is the tougher standard, especially for coated stocks, which can contain a high quantity of coating. In the U.S., the current paper recycling rate is 35 percent below the 1951 rate. Only six percent of office, computer, printing and magazine paper is recycled in the U.S. (See also post-consumer waste.)

SLUDGE - the inks and fillers that remain after waste paper is de-inked. Concerns about disposing of sludge in landfills include heavy metal contamination of soil and groundwater. Some landfills are lined to prevent this.

SOY-BASED INKS - soy oil and other vegetable-based oils are a promising replacement for some of the volatile petroleum products used as vehicles in inks. "Soy-based inks are better, but you still can't eat them," one designer says. These inks tend to make bright, clear colors. Currently soy-based inks are gaining the most favor among printers using cold web presses, on newsprint and other uncoated papers. Among drawbacks to these inks is that the printer's preparation time cleaning the presses before switching inks can be costly to the consumer. (See also inks.)

TREES - many people choose recycled paper with the honorable aim of saving trees. Paper companies counter that they are replanting more trees than they harvest. But which trees are being cut? Are they harvesting selectively, or clearcutting? Are they preserving ecosystems ? Environmentalists also claim that paper companies replant softwood trees but don't replace the hardwood trees they use, so that now there is a worldwide hardwood shortage.

Rise Anne Keller is assistant editor of Communication World.

How You Can Use

Recycled Paper

* Large companies can save money on disposal costs (which will only rise in the future) and direct those savings toward using recycled paper and other materials.

* To help prevent the landfill crisis, do two things: 1 ) Use less to begin with, by selecting lighter weight papers, and printing less for less waste. 2) Buy recycled products to stimulate demand and keep prices for recycled goods competitive.

* Ask questions about recycled content. Is it pre- or post. consumer waste? Is the content measured by weight - the tougher standard - or by fiber? Find out which printers are making an effort to provide recycled paper options, and reward them with your business.

* Learn about paper and inks so you can make your own choices. One major consumer magazine chose to use soy-based inks on an uncoated recycled paper with a hard finish, and they work closely with their color separator and printer to account for the characteristics of the paper and ink.

* Keep checking costs and availability. With the demand for recycled products growing, new grades and types of paper are constantly being offered by paper companies (especially during a rough economic period).

* If you can't afford to use only recycled paper for all of your projects, set aside a percentage of your paper budget for recycled. Or set a limit on the difference in price when you get bids. For example, if the price differential is within 10 percent for virgin and recycled paper, choose recycled.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Keller, Rise Anne
Publication:Communication World
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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