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Is Recycled Paper Really Recycled?

Inc. writer clears up some of the confusion about recycled paper and its use.
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Wearable Integrity, a clothing maker in Santa Monica, Calif., insists that its letterheads, brochures, and such be printed on recycled paper. Nothing unusual in that, except that founders Barbara and Mark Lesser are doctrinaire environmentalists and want their paper made from 100% postconsumer waste.

But that proved impossible. Postconsumer paper waste is fibrous material that's fulfilled its original use -- in newspapers and computer printouts, for example. There's so little demand for stock made from 100% postconsumer waste that mills tend to ignore it, and some recyclers won't collect it.

In a compilation of recycled-paper makers published by American Printer magazine (312-726-2802) this past March, only 3 of 30 offered text and cover stock composed entirely of postconsumer waste. None produced bond, writing, or envelope stock from 100% postconsumer waste. (One used 75%.) That's largely because, what with dullness, specks, and a greenish tinge, postconsumer surfaces can't compete with virgin.

Not only that, but the vocabulary is confusing. Much printing paper billed as "100% recycled" incorporates only 10% postconsumer waste. Paper classed simply as "recycled" may include no material that's truly been through a cycle. Fiber sources now commonly termed "recycled" often are leftovers from the original papermaking process, such as trial runs and trimmings of finished sheets. Those were commonly recycled as standard manufacturing practice well before public concern gave the practice ecological cachet.

And 100% postconsumer recycled paper can be more expensive than virgin. Nonetheless, the Lessers print the hangtags for finished goods on stock recycled from strictly postconsumer waste. The ink is soy-based, the strings natural jute. "We're willing to pay the price," says CEO Mark Lesser, who doesn't consider the dollar cost. "We get it back knowing we're doing right. If business itself won't use products reconstructed from its own waste, what's the point?"

Request samples of 100% postconsumer recycled text and cover paper from Domtar Fine Papers (203-359-1160), Mohawk Paper Mills (518-237-1740), and Simpson Paper Co. (415-391-8140); get samples of 75% postconsumer recycled bond from Stora Papyrus (315-848-3321).

-- Robert A. Mamis

Last updated: Dec 1, 1992




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