Facts About Paper
The universe of paper is changing radically. Shifts in the ways
we use and produce paper are being shaped by market forces,
tightening access to forest resources, changes in consumer awareness
and preferences, government restrictions and the undeniable
proliferation of electronic and on-line technologies.
WHAT PRICE PAPER?
For most printers, paper represents one of their largest input
costs. But because paper prices can fluctuate so suddenly and
unpredictably, printers of all sizes can feel the strain of the
paper industry's boom-bust cycles. The good news is that
environmental considerations provide opportunities to improve
efficiency and reduce costs. While printers often must defer to
customers' specifications, they can play a major role in shaping
those specifications. The key is staying abreast of the changes in
the paper demand and manufacture, and learning how to help influence
the changes. This fact sheet highlights some of the facts about
paper related to the printing industry in Montana.
Not that long ago, recycled paper was dismissed by many printers
as "junk." And rightly so. Printers were having problems with
quality, printability, availability and cost of recycled varieties.
But today recycled and virgin stocks are almost indistinguishable.
What has spurred the improvements in recycled paper?
Increasing public concern over depleted landfill space and use of
natural resources in the 1980s stimulated demand for so-called
ecologically friendly paper products. This fueled a big push for
technological improvements, such as stronger fiber and improved
pulp, thereby providing incentives for printers and suppliers to
learn how to work with recycled paper. As experience grows and
manufacturers continue to refine their processes quality will
continue to improve.
According to a study by Franklin and Associates, paper represents
roughly 40% of the total waste generated in the U.S. by weight (See
Figure 1). Of the more than 80 million tons of paper waste generated
in 1994, about 29 million tons were recovered, yielding a recovery
rate of about 35% (see Table 1). According to Rick Meis with
Treecycle, however, this figure is somewhat misleading since much of
what Franklin and Associates considers "recovered" was mill and
post-mill waste that was never in the waste stream anyhow.
||Recovery Rate |
Table 1. Generation and Recovery of
Materials in MSW: 1994. Percent Recovered for Recycling and
While recycling does keep paper from the landfills, it does not
necessarily "save" trees. In a closed system, paper cannot be
recycled indefinitely seven to ten times through is about the
maximum before the fibers just
break down so there will always be a need for some virgin wood
pulp to be added to the recycled paper system. While much of the
virgin matter is comprised of wood trimmings, "waste trees," scrap
wood and saw dust from lumber mills, statistics show that over 60%
of the roughly 17 billion cubic feet of timber harvested worldwide
each year is used for paper and pulp (Dadd-Redalia, 1995).
RECYCLED CONTENT STANDARDS
Paper labeling standards and waste content regulations have
recently become a source of frustration for many buyers of recycled
paper. Recycled papers may contain either or both "pre-consumer" and
"post-consumer" material. Here is an overview of common terms
associated with recycled paper:
- Pre-consumer: While there is no officially
accepted definition, pre-consumer (often called post-industrial)
material is material (mill broke, wood chips, other mill waste)
that is usually generated by industrial manufacturing processes
would otherwise have been landfilled.
- Post-consumer material: Waste paper (office
paper, newspaper and other types) that has served its intended
purpose and has been separated from solid waste to be recycled
into new paper. The greater the percentage of post-consumer
material in the paper, the less resource intensive it is because
it is closer to true "closed-loop" recycling.
- Post-mill: Paper waste generated in
converting and printing that is done by a facility other than the
paper mill. This does not include mill waste or wood chips.
- De-inked: Waste paper that has had the ink,
filler, and coating removed as a step in the production of
recycled paper. This includes magazines and newspapers that were
printed but never sold.
Table 2. Changes in recycled paper content
for fine paper used by the Federal government
The federal government has established minimum-content standards
for the paper it purchases. According to EPA guidelines, printing
and writing paper purchased by the federal government is required to
contain at least 50% total recycled fiber content, although this
standard does not require a specific amount of post-consumer
content. This standard, therefore, does nothing to divert paper
waste from landfills.
But an October 1993 Executive Order set a new standard for
recycled papers, requiring specific amounts of post-consumer
materials. In 1995, paper purchased by the government was required
to contain at least 20% post-consumer material. By 1999, the
post-consumer requirement increases to 30% (See Table 2). The
standard allows the 50% overall recycled content to include any
- scrap trimmings, known as "broke"
- pulp substitutes, including end rolls and conversion scraps
- pre-consumer waste, such as unsold finished goods
- post-consumer wastes from municipal recycling operations
The federal government standards are gradually becoming the de
facto industry standard, though its acceptance and use is by no
Another factor that affects the quantity of paper waste is its
basis weight. Lower basis weight means less paper fiber is used. It
may also be important to know if the post-consumer figure given is
the percentage of fiber content, or of total weight. Most paper
(especially coated paper) has filler materials in addition to fiber
content, making its total weight much higher than its fiber weight.
In this case, a comparison of recycled fiber to total fiber gives a
more accurate picture.
In 1992 the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines for the
use of environmental marketing claims directed at consumers so they
can understand labeling and will not be deceived. Printers must
label recycled products clearly and prominently, and indicate what
portion of the product is comprised of recycled content. If a
product is not 100% recycled, it must be labeled according to what
percentage of recycled matter it contains. Printers are warned
against using the term "recyclable" since the guidelines on that
term vary from state to state, thereby making mislabeling easy.
The use of chlorine bleaching to produce both virgin and recycled
paper is currently a hot topic of debate. For years, chlorine gas
known as elemental chlorine has been used to bleach
paper pulp and as an effective means of separating paper pulp from
lignin (a glue-like substance that bonds wood fibers together). But
during the 1980s, Europeans discovered that the industrial effluent
from chlorine is linked directly to the creation of the
organochlorine dioxins, a man-made carcinogen that passes easily up
the food chain (see sidebar).
In 1994 the EPA issued a draft report concluding that dioxin can
create adverse health effects, even at low levels. The findings have
prompted the agency to begin developing air and water emission
standards for the pulp and paper industry. While some chemical and
paper industry associations feel the EPA is underestimating the
compliance costs associated with the rules, some environmental
groups fear that the rules don't go far enough and create few, if
any, incentives to implement chlorine-free processes.
Alternatives do exist to elemental chlorine bleaching and have
already been implemented widely in Europe, and to a lesser extent in
ELEMENTALLY CHLORINE-FREE (ECF) PAPER
ECF bleaching is one alternative process that some say can
prevent pollution. This process utilizes chlorine dioxide or sodium
hypochlorite instead of chlorine gas as a bleaching agent. Even
though chlorine dioxide has "chlorine" in its name, its chemistry is
very different from chlorine gas.
Facts About Dioxin
- Dioxins are a family of 75 different chlorinated
hydrocarbon compounds formed as by-products in chemical
reactions involving chlorine and hydrocarbons, usually at
- The most harmful and widely studied compound is TCDDI
usually just called dioxin.
- The pulp and paper industry is the third largest
industrial buyer of elemental chlorine.
- Dioxin is one by-product from use of elemental chlorine
gas in paper bleaching.
- Other sources of dioxin include municipal and hazardous
waste incinerators, cement kilns, manufacture of certain
herbicides and plastics, and several hydrocarbon chemicals.
- Dioxins tend to bioaccumulate, which means their
concentrations in organisms increase successively up the
- Dioxin is a proven carcinogen (cancer causing chemical).
However a 1991 study of dioxin found that its
immurnological, developmental, and neurological effects at
very low levels may be more threatening to human health than
its carcinogenicity. There is still much controversy over
the accuracy or credibility of these data, and whether low
levels of dioxins really pose a threat.
- The term "dioxin-free paper" is misleading. Paper does
not contain dioxins, but they are produced as a by-product
of the papermaking process and usually become part of the
effluent wastewater of paper mills.
- Many North American paper companies are modifying their
processes to reduce the formation of dioxins. One way is to
switch from pure chlorine gas to chlorine dioxide, which
generates less dioxin by-product.
- Austria and Sweden substitute oxygen or other
non-chlorine processes, or use only non-bleached (slightly
brown) paper products. This is known as "total chlorine
free" (TCF), and is defend as using no chlorine or chlorine
- Reducing brightness requirements will make it easier for
paper companies to eliminate chlorine compounds from their
In the bleaching process using chlorine gas, chlorine tends to
combine with lignin to create chlorinated organics that end up in
mill waste water. In contrast, chlorine dioxide typically breaks
apart the lignin, leaving behind organic compounds soluble in water
and similar to naturally occurring substances. According to the
Business for Social Responsibility Fund, ECF has the following
- Reduced dioxin emissions. By substituting
chlorine dioxide at levels of 70% to 100%, mills can apparently
reduce the level of chlorinated organics found in mill effluent by
80% to 90% and reduce dioxins to "non-detect" levels.
- Superior bleaching. Chlorine dioxide may be a
better bleaching agent than elemental chlorine. ECF proponents say
that it is 2.5 times as powerful an oxidizer as elemental
chlorine, and that it preserves cellulose and attacks lignin more
- Easy retrofit. Mills using ECF have found it
relatively easy to retrofit their bleaching generators without a
large-scale capital investment. Additionally, there is little down
time downtime for employee training, and new equipment.
- Reduced water consumption. ECF lines use
about 5% to 15% less water.
Major drawbacks include:
- Loss of market share. The number of U.S.
consumers who prefer totally chlorine-free (TCF) paper is expected
to grow, and ECF mills could lose market share, particularly from
overseas companies who already offer TCF paper.
- Possible price shocks. The main ingredient in
chlorine dioxide is sodium chloride. Production of the chemical is
currently at capacity, with no short-term capacity increases
planned. In the event of a chlorine ban, other industries (such as
municipal water systems that depend on chlorine) could turn to
sodium chloride as a substitute. As a result, ECF manufacturers
could face skyrocketing costs.
- Later detection levels. New testing
techniques could make dioxins detectable at even lower levels,
removing ECF's "non-detect" status.
- Potential environmental violations. Even if
produced in "closed-loop" mills, ECF processes lead to chlorinated
by-products, which would end up in mill sludge, concentrated
bleach plant chemicals, and in emissions to the atmosphere, po
ssibly violating EPA rules.
- Lack of "closed-loop" recycling technologies.
The corrosive characteristics of chlorine require ECF producers
and those using elemental chlorine to use large quantities of
water, so "closed-loop" systems, where chemicals and water use d
in pulping and bleaching are recycled have been out of reach.
TOTALLY CHLORINE-FREE (TCF) PAPERS
Adoption of TCF has been much more widespread in Europe than in
the U.S. Currently 40% of European mills are operating TCF. The
markets there are spurred by greater consumer awareness of chlorine
issues and tighter regulations of chlorinated chemicals. While TCF
only comprises about 1% of the current U.S. market, it is expected
to increase to 10% by the year 2000.
Paper pulp produced from TCF is bleached with ozone, hydrogen
peroxide, "peracids" or enzymes. TCF papers are available, but at a
higher price, and a slightly lower quality than ECF papers, though
advancements in technology are addressing these quality concerns.
While the TCF processes require an initially large capital
investment, the operating costs are much lower. Over time these
factors, along with projected increases in demand, will help reduce
and possibly eliminate the price gaps. It is important to note that
TCF paper cannot be made without trees or some other virgin fiber in
order to ensure absolute total chlorine-free paper. Currently there
are only approximately four facilities in the U.S. that have
switched to TCF processes.
Major benefits of operating TCF facilities include:
- Reduced regulatory risk. Should the EPA ban
chlorine or tighten regulations even more than those included in
its proposed rules, TCF producers would be ahead of the regulatory
- Ability to capture growing market demand. The
advocacy and educational efforts of environmental organizations
fueled European concern about dioxins and led to a market demand
for chlorine-free paper. Advocates could spur the creation of
similar market demand in the U.S.
- Reduced water consumption. TCF pulp producers
are currently better able to reduce water consumption, an
important goal in light of possible Clean Water Act restrictions
on water consumption and potential tax incentives to reduce water
use. One TCF pulp mill in Canada operated effluent-free and
consumes just a fraction of the water that a standard mill
- Making innovations pay. U.S. pulp equipment
suppliers do not have any experience with TCF technology, so
companies that convert to TCF processes may have to develop
technologies in-house, which could provide competitive advantage
The drawbacks in committing to TCF now include:
- Non-post-consumer material. In order to
achieve totally chlorine-free paper, only pre-consumer fibers can
be used, since there is no guarantee post-consumer fibers were
unbleached. Therefore, TCF paper does not help close the loop of
- Uncertain market growth. While TCF is
projected to gain market share, pulp mills may see the market grow
more slowly than anticipated.
- Uncertain financial costs. There is little
consensus on the capital investment and operational costs of TCF,
so new capital investments may be riskier than ECF or chlorine
- Lack of operational experience in the U.S.
With little U.S. experience in conversion to TCF, mills may have
to develop their own expertise and address unexpected problems.
- Reduced fiber quality. Extended
delignification, during which pulp is "cooked" for longer periods
to separate the lignin from the cellulose (a common practice with
TCF) reduces the quality of the fibers, may increase the
consumption of virgin fiber, and produces a lower-quality pulp.
PROCESS CHLORINE-FREE (PCF) PAPER
Paper produced by TCF can not use post-consumer material, since
there is no guarantee that residual chlorine won't be carried over.
Process chlorine-free paper utilizes processes similar to TCF
manufacture, but incorporates post-consumer material into the pulp.
According to Rick Meis of Treecycle Paper in Bozeman, Montana, PCF
is a better use of resources and poses no harm to end-users of the
paper since it is the process of bleaching that creates
environmental concerns, not the actual paper. Any residual chlorine
in the paper would be negligible, according to Meis.
Major benefits of using PCF paper include:
- Post-consumer material. The PCF process has
many of the same benefits as TCF processes, except that
post-consumer recycled paper can be used.
- Environmental emissions. No dioxin or other
chlorinates organics are generated or released to the environment
in PCF processes
- No lignin removal. PCF is a logical process
for bleaching recycled paper, since the lignins are already
Drawbacks may include:
- Cost. The cost of running a PCF is currently
very high. But this could change over time as consumers begin to
demand cleaner paper-making technologies.
- Fragile recycled paper supply. Widespread
adoption of PCF paper processes would necessitate much greater
recovery rates of post-consumer material to ensure adequate supply
- Fiber strength. The shorter fibers of PCF
paper do not hold up as well as standard stocks in fast press
runs, or tight registrations.
How bright must it be?
Certain paper needs simply require very bright white paper. But
increasingly, paper users are beginning to accept less-than-bright
paper stocks as acceptable, and even preferable. As consumers become
more aware of the issues associated with recycling and bleaching,
they will demand more ecologically sensitive products.
Forward-thinking printers will not only tap into this market, but
will help to shape it.
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Produced by Todd MacFadden, Pollution Prevention Technical
Specialist and Michael P. Vogel, Ed.D., Pollution Prevention
Director, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. June, 1996