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RPA100 pushes the envelope--and the box, the carton, the video sleeve ... more products are being made from recycled paperboard--and the 100% Recycled Paperboard Association wants consumers and marketers to know about it.

Everyone is familiar with the "chasing arrows" symbol for recycling--maybe a little too familiar. Introduced more than 30 years ago, the symbol was originally intended for use only on recycled paperboard products. "We developed it so consumers could see our product out there," says Lynn Harrelson, managing director of the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance (RPA100), a New York City-based industry group of recycled paperboard manufacturers. In conjunction with the first Earth Day back in 1970, RPA100 member company Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. sponsored the contest that yielded the familiar arrow triad.

"What we didn't do was trademark that symbol, so it became ubiquitous," Harrelson told Solutions! in a recent interview. "It's as popular now on plastics as it is on paper. We realized about seven years ago that we had to restart everything and develop a new symbol to reestablish our brand." The idea of "brand" uniqueness--that 100% recycled paperboard can be a specified, preferred product, no matter which company produces it--is central to the goals of RPA100. With a new (trademarked) logo and expanded marketing, the Alliance is making inroads into the collective consciousness of America, as well as its "green" conscience. "The broad variety of products packaged in 100% recycled paperboard demonstrates that our quality, new conversion innovations and marketing initiatives are succeeding," says Caraustar, Inc. CEO and RPA100 Chairman Tom Brown. "During the last year alone, leading brands in a broad product range, such as Hewlett-Packard, FedEx and Searle, have chosen to use the updated symbol on their packaging."


During the past five years, recycled paperboard has enjoyed what RPA100 calls a "manufacturing and marketing rejuvenation." The group hopes the updated symbol will fuel this trend. "Those who choose to use our symbol must sign a license agreement; they can then use the symbol on any of their products that are 100% recycled paperboard. It can't be used on plastics," said Harrelson. According to data compiled by RPA100, 70% of consumers polled found the new symbol more understandable than the old chasing arrows symbol; 91% felt it did a better job of indicating a package's recycled paperboard content (see box on page 40 for more survey results).

Companies that contract to use the symbol pay no fees, but do stand to benefit from RPA100's publicity efforts. "Some of our members don't want any part in the marketing; they just want to be able to use the new symbol. Others really want to jump on the bandwagon and get involved," Harrelson reports. The organization has more than 60 partner firms-packaged goods companies and retailers displaying the 100% recycled paperboard symbol on thousands of products (see photo). Another 30 + are affiliate partners-carton converters, consultants and brokers who work with 100% recycled paperboard. Current Alliance member companies are Banner Fiberboard Co., Wellsburg, West Virginia; Caraustar, Inc., Austell, Georgia; The Newark Group, Cranford, New Jersey; Rock-Term Co., Norcross, Georgia; and Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Chicago, Illinois.

RPA100 has three main goals, said Harrelson. "First, we want to help consumers identify 100% recycled packaging," she explained. "Second, we want to improve demand for our product. We see incursions from plastics and from virgin paperboards, but we know that we have something consumers are looking for. Third, we want to give brand managers a reason to either stay with recycled or to choose recycled when they're selecting a folding carton option. We offer an extra benefit for those who choose to use recycled paperboard: when they use our symbol, they become part of a whole marketing campaign that is free to them. In this way, we promote their products in the marketplace and in the minds of consumers, to build their company image as well as their brand image."

The updated logo is only part of the campaign aimed at consumers, packagers, and retailers. The Alliance sends out press releases about new products that feature 100% recycled paperboard, sponsors media events, creates print and radio ads and even has a celebrity spokesperson-former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason. All these efforts are geared toward raising awareness of 100% recycled paperboard as the packaging option consumers want. "Our member companies have poured a lot of capital into improving their machines to make a consistent, high-quality product. We can help them gain back a little of that investment by helping others understand that these changes have occurred," Harrelson said.


Recycled paperboard-first produced in the U.S. about 120 years ago-has always been associated with brand image, at least indirectly. Folding cartons produced from recycled fibers allowed manufacturers to first explore the potential of mass branded merchandising; prior to their ready availability, most products were shipped in bulk and sold from barrels. Affordable packaging material allowed manufacturers to print brand images on the package and facilitated wider distribution.

During the 1950s, many manufacturers turned to virgin paperboard, and i00% recycled paperboard lost significant market share. It wasn't until America's burgeoning environmental awareness-sparked by that first Earth Day in 1970-that attention refocused on the use of 100% recycled materials. Marketing that capitalizes on consumers' tendency to "lean green" can create a brand preference for the packaging material itself, which in turn reflects on the product inside, Harrelson commented.

"Recycling is a daily behavior by every American, and they want to know what is happening to the materials they recycle. Paperboard producers are the largest end users for recycled paper. The members of RPA100 benefit because, as an industry, we hope to increase demand, to maintain market share as well as build market share," she said.

Harrelson points to increasing recovery rates for recycled fiber as an indicator that demand for 100% recycled paperboard is increasing. According to the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), paper recovery rates jumped from 46.8 million tons in 1999 to 49.4 in 2000-putting total recovery at 48% for 2000, three points higher than 1999. AF&PA attributes the rise to strong demand overseas for U.S. recovered paper and solid gains in domestic consumption; 87% of U.S. papermakers use recovered fiber to manufacture new products.

The story is a bit different outside the U.S., said Harrelson. "In Europe, there's a lot more legislation; also, most of Europe's paperboard is 100% recycled to begin with. Canadians have been much more aggressive (than U.S. packagers) about using recycled paperboard. For example, their margarine packaging is all in recycled paperboard. In the U.S., all the margarine is packaged in SBS virgin board."

Though Harrelson said there's no organization in Europe with exactly the same agenda as RPA100, several European industry, associations are working to influence the restrictive legislation (such as 1994's Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive) governing the use and collection of recycled materials. For instance, The European Declaration on Paper Recovery was launched late last year by the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) and the European Recovered Paper Association (ERPA). It's a voluntary target supported by several other associations in the paper arena which pledges that, by 2005, at least 56% of the paper and board products used in Europe will be recycled.

One of the plan's stated goals is "better awareness of paper recycling by informing consumers about their role in closing the paper loop"-very similar to RPAI00's consumer education efforts. Says CEPI's Director General Marie S. Arwidson, "it is our firm belief that this Declaration will not only help stimulate the European paper and board industry ... but also encourage other members of the paper chain and consumers to actively contribute to the achievement of higher collection and recycling levels."


While food-related manufacturers have successfully co-marketed for years--Got Milk?--it's unusual within the paper industry for competing manufacturers to band together to nationally promote a grade. For 100% recycled paperboard, Harrelson maintains, it makes sense. "You hear about this kind of cooperation in the plastics industry; they talk a lot about how wonderful plastic is. It has happened for 100% recycled paperboard because we have something unique to sell to the market that consumers want. They care, they just don't always know. When we show them packages side-by-side, they can't tell which is virgin paperboard and which is 100% recycled." The symbol is also a corporate positioning tool for the customers of member companies. "For packagers, it has to do with company image, environmental positioning. It gives them one more selling point, some differentiation from their competitors," Harrelson said.

That "environmental edge" drives new applications for 100% recycled paperboard. RPAI00 partner Federal Express Corp., for instance, now uses the grade for all its overnight mailer envelopes, which feature the updated symbol. "Segments that are just beginning to convert to 100% recycled paperboard packaging include refrigerated foods, frozen foods, and pharmaceuticals," added Harrelson. "Consumer electronics are increasingly using recycled paperboard-for example, Hewlett Packard printer cartridge packages. Video sleeves are all currently printed on SBS, but we're working with studios to try to get them to switch. For them, the issue is whiteness. There are great white sheets out there in recycled paperboard; it's a question of getting the word out."

For recycled board manufacturers, that word would be quality. "In the old days, recycled paperboard was not as good," Harrelson conceded. "Production problems made it less attractive and harder to work with than SBS. Those issues have been largely overcome; unfortunately, people get used to using one board grade, and they keep doing it without thinking about a change. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the performance of recycled paperboard versus virgin grades."

Because quality improvements have been largely incremental, Harrelson said that even some papermakers aren't aware of the strides being made. "There are no great new machines out there representing one giant technological leap; but there are hundreds of small leaps in the papermaking process that have led to a better, more consistent sheet. Changes in cleaning systems have been huge; improvements in machine controls give mills the ability to immediately spot a problem and correct it. Innovations in coating technologies have also had a great impact. The product has improved tremendously, as well as the printing processes and capabilities of the printing presses. Carton converters are better at their craft.

"I think papermakers get so close to it that they hardly notice these great improvements," Harrelson said. "I recently gave a speech to the Recycled Paperboard Technical Alliance and even these guys found it hard to see how much it has changed. We could always make a good sheet. They key was, could we make it every day, day after day? Now we can; we just have to make sure that everyone knows about it."

Consumer feedback

A 2000 survey conducted for the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance by Leflein Associates, Inc., Fort Lee, New Jersey, yielded the following results:

77% of consumers feel better about a company that uses 100% recycled paperboard (100RP) in its product packaging

61% of consumers are more inclined to purchase products from a company the uses 100RP packaging

80% feel that they are doing something good for the environment when they buy products packaged in 100RP

63% of consumers rated the 100RP package better or no different from the SBS package in terms of quality

31% of consumers are willing to pay up to 5% more for products packaged in 100RP

75% said they want to see the new recycling symbol on packages

59% would choose to purchase the product with the new recycling symbol on it over a package without it.

Janice Bottiglieri is Managing editor of Solutions! You may Address email to:
COPYRIGHT 2001 Paper Industry Management Association
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Title Annotation:Containerboard
Author:Bottiglieri, Janice
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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