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[GreenYes] Re: Recycled paper in trouble?

Last week John Reindl asked: "Why is it important that recycled fiber go to
printing and writing paper? . . . If recovered fiber is used in P&W, doesn't
that mean that other grades of paper will have to use virgin fiber,
resulting in possibly even a loss in terms of cost, chemicals, environmental
impact, etc.?"

I'm taking this question very seriously because I know that John is highly
knowledgeable about recycling. If he has these questions, then I'm sure many
other experienced recyclers do, too. And I believe that the understanding of
why it's essential to get more recycled content into P&W papers rather than
downcycling all the fiber is fundamental to ensuring that we have a fully
functioning recycling system appropriate for the 21st century. So here's how
I think about it (apologies for the length; hopefully it's worth it):

1. The situation that causes the most depletion of recycling opportunities
is when recovered paper is mixed and not sorted. That cuts off the potential
for newsprint, linerboard, tissue and printing/writing mills to use
recovered fiber because they cannot used mixed paper (when newsprint, office
and printing paper, packaging and boxes are all mixed together). Rather,
each kind of mill requires specific kinds of fibers, different for each
type, with the other fibers constituting contaminants in their manufacturing
systems. There are some types of paper mills, making certain kinds of
products, that can used mixed paper, but the majority of paper mills cannot.

If recovered fiber is being sorted properly, most mills are not
taking away from others, since each type takes mostly different parts of the
stream. P&W can use recovered office paper, and more than half of that is
still not collected in the U.S., so there is plenty to support an increase.

2. The engine for recycling is manufacturing. Although we use the word
"recycling" for all parts of the process, we have not truly achieved
"recycling" until the materials are incorporated into new products. While
collection and diversion support achieving recycling, the focus has to be on
providing feedstocks for manufacturers, and it needs to support their
hitting very high quality and tight production tolerances if we want them to
continue and even expand using recycled content.

3. The purposes for recycling, in my mind, are to reduce waste, conserve
resources, minimize the manufacturing footprint and reduce negative
environmental impacts as much as possible.

4. In the U.S., P&W makes up a substantial portion of the paper industry -
27% - yet it uses a miniscule amount of recycled fiber, approximately 6%
(split about equally between preconsumer and postconsumer). Other paper
industry sectors use far more. For example, tissue products average 45%
recycled fiber (although most of the most heavily advertised consumer tissue
products have none), but tissue accounts for only 8% of U.S. paper
production. Newsprint in North America averages 32.5% recycled fiber, but
even when putting U.S. and Canadian production together (Canada supplies the
majority of newsprint to U.S. publishers), it only accounts for 9% of paper
production. Within the packaging sector in the U.S., folding boxboard
averages 37% recycled content (but many kinds of paperboard boxes have none)
and corrugated containers average 24% recycled content (mostly from the
mixed paper in the inner medium layer).

5. The majority of P&W products are made from bleached kraft pulp, the most
resource-intensive type of pulping and the one that produces the most
environmentally damaging results, from demand on forests to toxic chemicals
and emissions. Therefore, replacing as much of this production with recycled
content as possible also provides the greatest environmental benefits of all
the paper sectors. Specifically, making copy paper from 100 percent recycled
content, for example, reduces:

? total energy consumption by 44 percent (even when accounting for
transportation for recycling),
? net greenhouse gas emissions by 38 percent,
? particulate emissions by 41 percent (which include many that cause health
problems such as asthma),
? wastewater by 50 percent,
? solid waste by 49 percent, and
? wood use by 100 percent.
(Source: Environmental Defense's paper calculator at )

6. Recycled pulp is the most efficient source of fiber for P&W paper. It
takes up to 4.4 tons of fresh trees to make one ton of virgin kraft pulp,
for a fiber efficiency rate of 23%. (Source: Environmental Defense's Paper
Task Force Report, White Paper #3, updated 2002; mills report half the
weight because they use dried wood.) But it takes only 1.4 tons of recovered
paper to make one ton of recycled kraft pulp, for a fiber efficiency rate of
71%. (Source: 2001 deinking capacity study by Conservatree and Environmental

7. P&W can be recycled the most times, thereby magnifying benefits -
industry estimates range from 7-12 times before the fibers become too short
and frayed and drop out of the system. As long as there continues to be new
virgin fiber coming into the production system (which could be from nonwood
sources as well as forest fibers), and as long as all products are not
expected to be 100% recycled content, recycling can provide a substantial
portion of the fiber. This means that if office papers, for example, are
recycled into more P&W, the already major environmental savings can be
magnified 7-12 times, making them even MORE dramatic.

In comparison, newsprint can only be recycled 3-4 times. Paperboard can
be recycled probably 3-4 times but generally isn't. Once fibers are
downcycled into mixed paper products, they can never be re-sorted to be used
for P&W papers.

8. Global paper demand is rapidly escalating; we can¹t continue wasting
resources. Five years ago, the UN Environment Programme reported that
industrialized nations, with 20% of the world's population, consumed 87% of
the world's printing & writing papers. Think about that. Twenty percent of
the world's population is 1.3 billion people, and you know the UN reference
is primarily to people in North America and Europe, where the use of paper
per capita is greatest. I'm sure the profile is similar for most other
consumer products, as well.

But now the billions of people in developing nations are wanting many of
the same consumer benefits we have enjoyed for a long time. As you know,
China is rapidly building up its paper industry, not only for packaging for
exports but also to provide communications materials and other paper
products for its own population that has had very little in the past. And
India is starting to build up its paper industry now, too. Obviously,
between China and India alone the global demand for P&W paper can easily
double rapidly.

Meanwhile, there are a dozen or so enormous mega-size virgin wood pulp
mills, far bigger than anything that has ever existed before, being built in
South America, China, Indonesia, Tasmania and other developing areas. China
is pulping the forests in Russia for the virgin fiber portions of their
paper products and they are counting on shipping woodpulp from South America
as the mainstay for many of their products. Natural forests in many of these
areas are being cleared, many are quickly being replaced by rapid-turnover
tree plantations that eliminate much of the environmental diversity that
previously existed, and already there have been appalling toxics pollution

Why are these mills targeting even MORE wood fiber for papermaking than
ever before? Doesn't this seem in direct contradiction to our dawning
recognition about needing to conserve forests to combat global warming? And
why aren't these mills the most cutting-edge environmentally sustainable
designs possible? Meanwhile, a high grade deinking mill making pulp suitable
for P&W paper was recently built in France but otherwise almost all the
focus is on more virgin pulp mills, despite the fact that building a
deinking mill is considerably less expensive than building a wood pulping
mill. The P&W paper that increasingly is coming into the U.S. from printing
in South America and from converted and printed products in China is
virtually all virgin paper.

Given the serious environmental problems created by traditional woodpulp
production processes for P&W papers for that first 20% of the world's
population, how can we possibly double P&W production while continuing to do
things the same ways without blowing out the planet¹s resources? And yet,
how could we possibly expect the other 80% of the world¹s population to
continue to do without the many benefits that paper brings to societies,
just so that we don¹t have to become more environmentally responsible?

It seems clear to me that we need to drastically reduce the production
footprint for paper. Certainly that means that we, especially in the
developed countries and particularly in the U.S., need to pay a lot more
attention to reducing waste. Yet even if we shifted much more to electronic
communications, I think there will still be a significant demand for P&W
paper for a long time to come. That production needs to be moved to
environmentally sustainable processes, and recycled content is a key
foundation for that, along with sustainably sourced virgin fibers and clean

How can we countenance 100% virgin fiber papers, when the model for them is
a one-way trip to the landfill that doesn't take responsibility for their
end-of-life, even while more natural resources are used to make new paper?
If we do catch them for recycling but then only downcycle them, we miss the
most significant environmental benefits and impact reductions that they
could provide if made back into new P&W papers. (If we compost or burn them
for energy we lose all the resource conservation benefits we could have
gotten from them. It takes as much energy to burn them as you can get from

The North American paper industry is declining and has long said that they
don't intend to make new investments here. But the U.S. is where the huge
amounts of recycled fiber are and I think we have a responsibility, as the
ultra-consumers (not that I'm proud of that), to develop, model, and convert
to ecologically sound products and production processes that will need to be
the sustainable production templates no matter where in the world products
are made. In fact, I think this will be one of the major creative challenges
of the next several decades, and one that can produce many positive

So, John, that's why I think it is not only important, but ESSENTIAL, that
high levels of recycled fiber go into printing & writing paper.

BTW, the Environmental Paper Network ( )
will be publishing a report in June that outlines the state of the paper
industry from a North American perspective, placed as much as we can in a
global context as well. Conservatree wrote the chapter on what's happening
with recycled content, and a number of other environmental groups wrote
chapters on forest impacts, clean production, and reducing consumption, as
well. EPN will post an announcement when it's available.


Susan Kinsella
Executive Director
Phone - 415/561-6526
E-mail Fax - 509/756-6987
susan@no.address, seek@no.address
skype - susanekinsella

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