Choosing Environmentally Friendly Paper

I get asked a lot about what are the best environmentally friendly papers for print. Most people believe that just because a paper has 100% PCW that it must be the best choice for their print project, but that’s not necessarily the case. In honor of Earthday, I thought I’d share some tips on choosing the best environmentally friendly paper when it comes to print.

5 Steps to Choosing Environmentally Friendly Paper

1. Choose paper with the highest amount of PCW content for the job. Did you see that last part? For the job. Just because a sheet is 100%PCW does not mean it is appropriate for every print project. For example, it is very easy to find a sheet for an identity system that is 100%PCW and we’d say that is a very conscientious choice. However, if you are working on a corporate brochure and require a coated paper, 100%PCW is not going to be a good fit. Why?

Well it’s simple really, there’s not nearly enough recycled pulp available to manufacture all the papers available on the market this way. If paper manufacturer’s attempted to produce all papers with 100%PCW they’d run out of pulp in two months. Most coated papers are made with 10% – 30% PCW and this is without compromising the integrity of the sheet. Once you get past that point – all bets are off.

Paper can be recycled up to 7 times, by that last time it’s like tissue paper. The more a sheet is recycled the weaker the fibers become – weak fibers can present a whole host of issues, but the most common one is cracking. So if you have a project designed with heavy ink coverage and on a cover weight – high PCW content can mean issues with cracking on the spine, the likelihood increases with each bump in basis weight. There are plenty of papers that contain 10% – 30% PCW (a better choice for folding/scoring on PCW), you just need to know your options.

2. Choose a sheet that is manufactured with third party chain of custody certification. Today that means either FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), or SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), These certifications insure that the paper is coming from a well-managed forest. This is not an issue with North American manufactured papers, however it is an issue for papers made in places like Indonesia and China. If you’re buying decision is price driven, verify the country of origin because there are a lot of sheets on the market imported from these areas and there’s a reason they’re so cheap. If you are planning to print the FSC logo on your piece beware, this requires an approval process and all three parties in the chain (paper mill, paper merchant, and printer) must be certified.

3. Choose paper that is manufactured with renewable energy. This is becoming more and more important. We’re pretty lucky here in the U.S. & Canada, there are many paper mills that have long employed renewable energy as a means of manufacturing, they are just becoming better at marketing that fact. Renewable energy could mean wind power, solar, bio-mass, hydroelectric – to name a few. Look for the Green-e logo on the swatch books to insure certification.

4. Choose paper that is manufactured chlorine free. When paper is recycled, the manufacturers need to remove the ink on the sheet being recycled – that is done by bleaching. Up until the late 1990s, chlorine was the chemical of choice for bleaching paper in the kraft pulping process (which produces almost all printing and office papers as well as tissue products, along with some types of packaging).

Not only does chlorine get paper fibers very white, (here’s a little science lesson) it also pulls out and binds with lignins – the structural cells in the tree that cause paper to deteriorate. But, when chlorine bonds chemically with carbon-based compounds (such as lignins), it produces dioxins and toxic pollutants. This is BIG trouble because when these are released into water, they do not break down. Dioxin, even when released in tiny amounts, “bioaccumulates” as it moves up the food chain – reaching its highest concentration in humans, where it is increasingly linked to cancers as well as reproductive, nervous and immune system damage.

Look for either Process Chlorine Free (PCW content papers) or Totally Chlorine Free (Virgin fiber papers) to insure no chlorine was used in the manufacturing process.

5. Choose papers made close to home. Sounds simple, but sometimes I think specifiers forget about this and only focus on PCW and FSC – while both are important, if you spec paper that’s made a world away you kind of negate all the good with the toll it takes on the environment during transport.

Hopefully this will help simplify the process of specifying environmentally friendly papers. If you have questions about sustainable paper options, drop me a note – I’m happy to help answer questions.

2 thoughts on “Choosing Environmentally Friendly Paper”

  1. Great article.
    One comment on item #2. Please let your printer know you want to use the FSC logo at the quote/bid stage if possible. If that is not possible then when you issue the PO. The approval process must be started when the stock is ordered.


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