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OPERATIONS

Rethinking Recycling

A conservationist CEO argues that recycling paper does more harm to the environment than cutting down trees.
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Doesn't it go without saying that businesses should recycle paper? No, answers Ken Braun, cofounder and chairman of Pepper's, a retail chain of natural-ingredient personal-care products, and an avid conservationist who has much to say -- and do -- about recycling. Braun's concerns once dictated buying only recycled paper for his company's office supplies. He's changed his mind. Not because recycled paper is more expensive than virgin (though it is) or less well finished (that, too), but because in talking to suppliers he determined that the chemicals employed in recovering old paper did more harm to the environment than chopping down new trees did.

Braun further unearthed that for some time now the paper industry, along with the government, has been planting more trees than it harvests. Far from being a withering resource, pulp-wood crops are themselves recyclable, thanks to the newly developed, now ready-to-be-harvested "supertree," a genetically improved pine that reaches maturity in 18 years rather than 25 years and yields 30% to 40% more fiber than run-of-the-mill varieties do. Indeed, a spokesperson for the American Paper Institute (API), a trade organization in New York City that represents most of the country's mills, admits that when paper companies "do recycling, it's not to save trees -- which is the common belief. It's to extend resources. A paper company needs raw materials to stay in business." In other words, a portion of the public collecting effort goes toward boosting corporate assets.

As for paper recycling stressing the environment, the API spokesperson suggests that Braun stop worrying. Because whether mills are using wastepaper fiber or wood fiber to manufacture paper, they must meet strict Environmental Protection Agency and local standards. Besides, in transforming old newsprint into new boxes, recycling saves precious landfill space.

Nonetheless, Braun insists on ordering office stationery and packaging materials made straight from the tree. Yet he persists in packaging Pepper's paper for pickup -- and also breaks down the corrugated cases in which vendors ship goods, and uses them many times over for his own shipping. Similarly, he rounds up for recycling empty plastic containers from Pepper's outlets. Not every business can be expected to practice this kind of self-recycling, however. "For someone bigger, it could become an operational nightmare," Braun grants. "For us, it's very satisfying." -- Robert A. Mamis

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Last updated: May 1, 1991




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