Recycled Paper? Certified Paper? What does this mean?

I have been interested in using more environmentally friendly paper in my office. Shopping online or at the local office supply stores show that that there are several type of green, recycled, eco friendly and paper sources available. There are countless different terms, certifications and green statements on the side of the boxes. What do they all mean?

Paper general comes from three sources. 

  • Regular paper – Made from the raw fiber/pulp of trees. 
  • Certified paper – Is also made from the raw fiber/pulp of trees. However the trees are managed and replanted for future harvests. The majority of paper today is certified.
  • Recycled paper -  Is made from post consumer waste and recovered materials from the paper making process. There is a higher cost to produce recycled paper due to the process.

The certification of paper was explained nicely by Nick Bragg:

“With customers looking to become better environmental stewards, paper manufacturers are making it easier to meet those goals. In fact, distributors are ushering customers looking to go green towards paper products that are certified by third-party organizations such as Green Seal and EcoLogo, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) and the Green Restaurants Association.

These organizations have put these paper products through strict testing, so distributors are ensured that they are selling customers the greenest paper products available. And, by taking the guesswork out of the equation, it also substantiates a facility’s claim that they’re in fact using a green paper product, says Farmer.

Simply because a product uses recycled fiber does not automatically mean that the product is green. It needs to be produced using a specific percentage of post-consumer content and recovered fibers.

In its Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for Commercial/Industrial Sanitary Tissue Products, the EPA recommends a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer waste content be used in the manufacturing of towels and a minimum of 20 percent for restroom tissue. For a restroom tissue to be certified by Green Seal, the fiber in the product must contain 100 percent recovered materials, including 20 percent post-consumer materials.

Environmentally friendly paper also isn’t bleached using chlorine derivatives. According to the Chlorine Free Products Association, for a recycled content paper product to be certified as “Processed Chlorine Free” it must include all recycled fibers used as a feedstock that meet EPA guidelines for recycled or post-consumer content. Processed Chlorine Free paper has not been rebleached with chlorine containing compounds and a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer content is required.

Green Seal and EcoLogo standards also mandate that towels and tissue cannot be bleached with chlorine or any of its derivatives such as hypochlorite or chlorine dioxide.”

There are certainly differences between the final paper product made from raw materials verses those made from recycled materials.    Learning some of the terminology may help us find the best fit for their business and the environment.

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