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Using recycled paper.

Using recycled paper

One of the primary reasons for this heightened focus on recycled paper and paper products is the growing, worldwide environmental movement and the subsequent desire by individuals in all corners of the globe to safeguard the earth and its resources.

Americans face a growing solid waste crisis. Faced with an alarming drop in the number of landfills across the country and the inability to site new solid waste disposal facilities as a result of stiff community "NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) opposition, municipalities are caught in an untenable situation. In fact, according to a 1989 Cambridge Reports/National Solid Waste Management Association study, managing solid waste issues ranks in the top five concerns of most US politicians. And this situation will only be exacerbated in the years ahead. According to one estimate, at current levels, the gap between the US solid waste generation and the capacity to adequately dispose of it will weigh in at a staggering 40 million tons annually by the year 2000. Since paper and paper products account for about 36 percent of the US's solid waste stream, recycling must become a standard approach for successfully managing municipal solid waste.

For all practical purposes, however, implementing widespread recycling efforts is still in its infancy. At the paper industry's first US symposium on recycled paper in June, it was clear that much confusion still exists even among those who produce and distribute paper and paper products. Unfortunately, this has left the end user--printers, designers, specifiers, communicators and general consumers--with more questions than answers.

Demand for recycled paper is expected to accelerate greatly in the years ahead--this will put new demands on marketing and communication professionals to become better informed about the uses and characteristics of recycled paper. Whether for purely environmental or corporate objectives, companies will increasingly turn to recycled paper as a means to demonstrate good corporate citizenship. As a result, communication professionals will be cast in the role of advising superiors, clients and customers on the effective use of recycled paper.

The primary challenge facing the use of recycled paper is balancing supply with demand. Only by creating a better understanding of the process and the facts behind recycled paper, can we counsel others in our organizations.

What Constitutes

Recycled Paper?

Contrary to popular belief, recycled paper is not a "new" paper. In fact, the technology of making recycled paper is quite old. Paper has only been made from the cutting and pulping of trees since the mid-1880s. Prior to that time, paper was made from a wide variety of reclaimed materials, including rags, hemp, linen and grass. Even today, paper mills use manufacturing waste and a variety of non-wood components in the production of certain grades of virgin paper.

Currently, no clear or consistent definitions exist of what constitutes recycled paper, although the US Environmental Protection Agency has established federal guidelines and specification-preferences for government purchase of recycled paper products. These cover printing and writing grades as well as tissue, corrugated and packaging products. However, because these are only guidelines, they have not alleviated misunderstanding or confusion, prompting many in the industry to call for consistent and simple definitions.

In the context of the solid waste crisis more people consider recycled paper as those grades which include a percentage of "post-consumer" waste materials and waste paper (see sidebar concerning definitions). In broad terms recycled paper uses reclaimed paper from the solid waste stream in the manufacturing process. Essentially, the only difference between the production of recycled and non-recycled paper is in the preparation process of raw fibers.

How Is Used Paper

Converted into Recycled Paper?

In general, the major process steps require used paper to be broken down into its individual fibers so they can be added to the papermaking process to create more paper, thus decreasing the need for new wood fiber and intercepting used paper from ending up in landfills. If the used paper has been printed, it must first be "de-inked" to remove contaminants from the paper fibers prior to manufacture. The de-inking process usually requires a combination of screening, washing, cleaning, flotation dispersion, and in the instance of corrugated paper, asphalt dispersion. The processes used to convert waste paper into usable products vary by grade and the kind and type of contaminants contained in the paper.

Can Paper Be

Recycled Indefinitely?

Some experts claim that recycled paper can only be used a few times, while others insist that it can be used indefinitely. Essentially, each time it is recycled, the cellulose fiber is weakened and shortened until eventually it becomes so small that it passes through the screening phase of the pulping process and is lost. Since paper requires a mix of both long and short fibers to produce formation characteristics, a continuous infusion of never-before-recycled fiber will always be needed as a raw material of recycled paper.

What about the Quality and

Consistency of Recycled Paper?

Many people who were involved in the paper industry during the last recycled paper movements spurred by the short-lived "save-a-tree" trend of the 1970s probably remember recycled paper as a vastly inferior, troublesome nightmare best left to memory. Fortunately, recycled paper de-inking and manufacturing technology have made giant strides since then. Today, by using proper processing steps, certain recycled paper grades can be made bright and white, although in many instances a more natural state is requested so the paper "looks" recycled.

Regarding paper appearance, print quality and performance on press, a recent Paper Sales' survey of printers on the performance of recycled paper revealed that a substantial 77 percent of those surveyed indicated recycled paper's performance was equivalent to non-recycled on the press. Only five percent indicated it was "much worse," while two percent felt it was "much better" on press.

What are Recycled Paper's

Design Characteristics?

Generally speaking, opacity is enhanced with recycled paper. Also, since the fibers are shorter, recycled paper's extra stiffness can be a factor for certain applications. By te same token, recycled paper is easier to fold against the grain. Recycled paper is available in a wide selection of colors, weights, finishes, textures and grades and, as it becomes a more mainstream product, additional options will be available.

Technically, each recycled paper grade has its own specific tolerance limitations and consistency characteristics--just like virgin paper grades. For example, some recycled papers are laser compatible, some grades emboss better than others, still others experience shade variations. Typically, any disappointments which have surfaced regarding the use of recycled paper usually are caused by using the wrong type of recycled paper for the job or by attempting to exceed the tolerance specifications of a particular grade. Since some recycled paper grades can be difficult to obtain, it is important to make sure the design fits the capabilities of the paper instead of trying to make the paper fit the design. The best rule of thumb is to use the resources of an experienced mill or merchant representative during the design process if you have any questions or doubts about a specific grade of recycled paper.

Why Do Some Types of

Recycled Paper Seem

More Readily Available

Than Others?

Since some grades are more readily recovered and recycled than others, they are more available. Five principal waste paper grades exist: old newspaper, corrugated, high-grade de-inked, pulp substitutes and mixed paper. Although all these grades constitute waste paper, they are not interchangeable as raw materials to make new paper products. Additionally, some types of waste paper are more difficult to recycle than others because of the advent of plastics, adhesives, more none-inkable inks and films, more and higher mechanical fiber content papers and more coated papers. All of these factors contribute to uneven sources of supply.

Why Is Recycled Paper

Often More Expensive

Than Virgin Paper?

Many of the same factors that affect availability also contribute to higher production costs. In the almost 150 years since wood became the primary raw material for paper, the North American paper industry has become extremely efficient in growing, pulping and producing paper. This has been accomplished, in part, by locating pulp and paper mills close to the source of raw materials (trees) and away from major population centers which, of course, are now the source of supply for reclaimed waste paper. Other factors which contribute to higher recycled paper prices include the cost to de-ink printed, post-consumer waste paper, reclamation costs to ensure an adequate supply of raw materials and the capital investment necessary to build and/or convert paper machines and mills to produce recycled paper.

Finally, the law of supply and demand comes itno plays, as do economies of scale. Although interest in recyled paper is growing, consumer demand, while currently ahead of present-day capacity, has not created the pressure needed to spur the massive capital expenditures needed to bring recycled paper production to parity with virgin paper grades. Many paper manufactures rushed into the recycled arena in the 1970s only to be left holding the bag--and a recycled one at that--when consumer support quickly waned. They are now justifiably cautious in attempting to gauge long-term customer demand.

Nonetheless, the paper industry is demonstrating its commitment toward recycled paper. According to American Paper Institute (API) data, of the approximately 600 US mills producing pulp, paper and paperboard or building products, 200 depdend almost entirely on waste paper for their raw material. Another 300 use between 10 percent and 50 percent waste paper in their manufacturing process, while capital investments already committed or in advanced planning stages will further increase the industry's capacity to recycle.

What Is the Future of

Recycled Paper and Recycling?

Ultimately, consumer demand and support will dictate the long-range role of recycled paper in our society. Recycling is dependent on expanded market use of finished products that can be made from recycled paper. It is also dependent upon the availability of a quality waste paper supply. The API has set an ambitious national goal of 40 percent paper recovery through recycling by the end of 1995. To attain this goal will require a concerted effort among consumers, the paper industry and municipalities to expand collection and incorporation of recycling into the mainstream of our daily lives.

However, it is recognized that we will be unable to recycle our way out of the landfill crisis. Even reaching the 40 percent paper recovery goal by 1995 will probably have little real effect on easing and solid waste crisis. The anticipated increase in paper use and the further reduction of landfill sites will keep the pressure on. In a broader sense then, recycling is only one solution to America's solid waste crisis.

Craig Jolley is manager, marketing communication for Zellerbach, at Mead Company, distributors of printing papers, packaging and industrial supplies.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Author:Jolley, Craig
Publication:Communication World
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:1791
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