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Recycled Paper: Exploding the Myths

Recycled Paper: Exploding the Myths

in Green Matters

by: Kimberly Ben

Paper and paper products are the largest single component of society’s waste stream. The movement to recycle paper and manufacture products is primarily an effort to reduce the amount of costly, disposable waste. When we choose to use recycled paper for our businesses and homes, we don’t have to sacrifice quality. Recycled paper is readily available in many high quality grades meeting the same technical specifications as virgin (tree) paper. The quality of recycled paper has improved significantly over the years, so that it performs well in office copiers, fax machines, printers and printing machines.

The First Paper Mill in the U.S. Recycled

Believe it or not, the very first paper mill originated in the U.S. colonies in 1690 close to Philadelphia, and operated as a recycling mill. The paper mill created paper from recycled cotton and rags. It wasn’t until the 1800s that papermakers learned to make paper from trees. Back then papermakers thought the resources of the forest were limitless and capable of constantly renewing itself. Today we realize that our natural resources do have limits and sustainable alternatives must be implemented to protect the world’s environment.

Just the Facts

Recycled paper is widely used in products today. Newspapers, magazines, books catalogs, direct mail, tissue and towel products, packaging products and more use recycled paper. Still, there are many myths surrounding recycling and recycled paper.

Myth 1: Recycled paper doesn’t have a professional appearance.

You can easily find a variety of quality and grades available. You’ll find paper made just for business cards, letterhead, and brochures, tissue and towel papers and more just as easily in recycled paper products. Recycled paper is often cost-comparative to virgin paper.

Myth 2: It doesn’t make sense to buy recycled products because they cost more.

In the instances where recycled paper does cost more than virgin paper, the average cost difference is generally around 10 to 20-percent. The tremendous benefits to the environment outweigh this cost difference in the end.

Myth 3: You compromise quality when you go with recycled paper products.

When recycled paper was first introduced, it was known for being discolored and uneven in texture and appearance. Today’s recycled paper products with even 100-percent post consumer content are comparable in quality to virgin paper products.

Myth 4: All paper is recycled now anyway.

Actually post-consumer recycled paper comprises only about 10-percent of the printing and stationary market. 90-percent of these industries still use virgin paper.

Myth 5: The poor quality of recycled paper creates paper jams in machines.

You should have no problem finding quality, recycled paper to use in printers, fax machines copiers and other equipment. Whether you are using recycled paper or virgin paper the key is to pick the right paper for the task (e.g. copier paper for the copier).

Myth 6: The fibers in recycled paper create excess dust which can damage machinery.

This is not just a recycled paper issue. Whether you choose recycled paper or virgin paper, make sure to use high quality paper to reduce the incidence of dust.

Myth 7: Tree-free and chlorine-free recycled paper is the best.

This is an example of misused definitions. “Tree-free” refers to an alternative fiber source such as hemp, kenaf or cotton which is used to make the paper. “Chlorine-free” refers to the bleaching process. These terms are not directly related to the recycling process. Most recycled papers however, are classified as processed chlorine-free (PCF) which makes them environmentally friendly in this additional way.

Myth 8: Burning paper for energy is much better than recycling.

Paper can be recycled over and over multiple times. This saves trees, water, energy and reduces pollution, increasing the value of recycling.

Myth 9: Recycling paper damages the environment.

Ultimately, recycling conserves the environment by saving trees, water and energy. However, there is a sludge produced from recycling as in virgin paper production. Most sludge tests non-toxic, but toxic sludge can be properly disposed of.

Myth 10: Buying recycled paper doesn’t really help the environment.

This is probably the biggest myth of all. Paper that goes into landfills produces large amounts of methane gas. This contributes to global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that virgin paper decomposition in landfills is one of the biggest sources of methane. In addition the manufacture of recycled paper saves on energy, water, pollution and reduces pressures on our dwindling forests.