by Jesse Mansfield

It makes sense. Paper is made from trees. Trees die and paper is made. It’s thrown away and fills up landfills. We need to reduce the amount of paper we use!

Reducing how many resources we use generally is a good idea. Reducing pollution is in everybody’s best interest. Stemming the tide of human impact on the Earth should be apart of everyone’s daily thought process.

But you shouldn’t be that concerned about paper. Paper is a renewable and sustainable resource. It’s highly recyclable and it’s biodegradable. Virgin paper fibers can be recycled 5-7 times in fact! Sourced from responsibly managed forests paper production actually a promoter of wildlife and preservation.

That’s to say if its done right. There is paper that isn’t responsibly sourced. There are paper manufacturers that don’t use sustainable practices. There are printing processes that don’t allow for efficient recycling.

Here I’ll give you all the tips & statistics on how and why paper and print is sustainable and how you can be sure to be a responsible buyer of print and paper.

The Forests: Let’s start at the source.

The co-founder of Green Peace Dr. Patrick Moore said

“To address climate change we must use more wood not less. Using wood sends signals to the marketplace to grow more trees and produce more wood.”

Paper companies aren’t harvesting old-growth forests for wood anymore. Less than 8% of the pulp that goes into paper is from such sources. The most responsible paper mills don’t use pulp from old-growth sources at all.

The truth is that only ⅓ of all pulp used in paper manufacturing today comes from virgin pulp at all! ⅓ comes from recycled products and the other ⅓ comes from the chips and offcuts of lumber mills. Only 11% of all wood harvested in the world goes into paper production annually.

So how do you make sure that the paper you’re buying is from a sustainable source? How are you sure that they use pulp from responsibly managed forests and tree farms?

There are a couple of certifications that help with this. The predominant certification in North America is the FSC certification or Forestry Stewardship Council certification. Another similar certification is the SFI certification or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Both of these organizations certify that the sources used by lumber mills and paper manufacturers for virgin trees are sustainable. This includes the practice of replanting after harvest, wildlife preservation, pollution reduction, respecting of tribal lands and a whole host of other standards.

They also certify the chain of custody. Every company along the supply chain from the paper mill to the paper vendor/warehouse to the printing company can be certified that they didn’t break the chain of custody along the way. No one swapped out sustainable paper for a cheaper unsustainable paper along the way.

So look for papers with these certifications and make sure your printer has the appropriate chain of custody certification.

Waste Water Recycling

Paper manufacturing not only uses wood pulp but also uses a lot of water, additives, and energy. The best paper mills have a whole host of ways to reduce there environmental impacts with these activities.

It takes 100 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of paper. However, sustainable paper mills have sophisticated wastewater treatment plants allowing for up to 90% of the water used to be recycled.

Chlorine in the Paper Making Process

Not too long ago paper manufacturers used elemental chlorine to bleach the pulp fibers to make them whiter. Elemental chlorine (cl2) is very polluting to the environment and water supply. Now most manufacturers don’t use elemental chlorine and many don’t use chlorine at all. Here are some definitions and shorthand from Mohawk Paper of chlorine free. 

ECF – Elemental Chlorine Free – Means that the paper was made without elemental chlorine (cl2) but other less caustic forms of chlorine such as chlorine dioxide (clO2)

PCF – Process Chlorine Free – All post-consumer waste fibers and virgin fibers were processes without the use of chlorine.

TCF – All fibers were processed without chlorine or chlorine compounds.

Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) 

As I mentioned earlier ⅓ of all pulp used to make paper comes from post-consumer waste. Post-consumer waste is paper that’s been recycled after being bought and used in the market place. This differs from the other ⅓ of pulp that comes from pre-consumer waste such as the chips left over from lumber processing.

Most paper lines have at least a little PCW content. Often times its a lower amount like 10%. You can find paper that is made with more PCW. You can even find papers such as Mohawk’s Loop line that are 100% PCW.

Alternative Energy Sources

Many responsible paper manufacturers either run their plant with alternative energy resources or offset their use of fossil fuel resources by buying carbon credits or windpower/hydropower/solar power credits.

Some plants such as the French Paper Company in Niles, Michigan use alternative energy sources directly to run their plant. French Paper Company is powered by fully-renewable hydroelectric generators since 1922.

Tree Credits

Some printers offer the ability for the customer to buy tree credits from different organizations sponsoring the planting of more trees than they are using. It’s quite affordable as well.

Environmentally Friendly Print

Many of the environmentally unsound practices in the printing process have been replaced by environmental alternatives. Mineral based inks have been replaced by vegetable/soy based inks. Chemistry processes used to make printing plates have been replaced by thermal laser “chemistry free” processes instead. Cleaning materials offer less caustic “alcohol-free” alternatives.

How this doesn’t mean that printers take advantage of these less harmful processes. Often times its easier and cheaper to use the less environmentally friendly alternatives at the expense of the rest of us. Their prices may be cheaper but that’s because they’re not paying the true cost of being environmentally conscious and a responsible corporation.

There are environmental audits and certifications that a print company can go through. These audits yield a certification that they’d be proud to show. However, it still doesn’t tell the whole story.

Print is a manufacturing process. It’s also a product. In order to set their product apart and make themselves more appealing, some print companies use special coatings and laminates on their business cards and such to make them “silk” or “soft touch”. When you see these words what they’re not telling you is that those finishes are accomplished by gluing plastic laminates over the paper.

Is that bad? Not inherently. However, these companies aren’t transparent about the processes and unaware buyers don’t know any better. If customers knew that these laminates were an extra two layers of plastic making their print much less recyclable and wasteful then they most likely wouldn’t do it.

So not only do you want to source more environmentally friendly paper but also use environmental printing processes and source from an environmentally conscious print company. With the right accreditations, you can even flaunt your choices on your print in the form of FSC logos and many others.

@ Print Shoppe

At Print Shoppe we focus on providing sustainable solutions and working with sustainable partners. We have many different print processes and technologies but have always made sure our capital investments have incorporated environmentalism into the decision making process.

We have offset presses but they’re waterless. The plates they use are chemistry-free. This means that there are no unnecessary caustic materials leeching into the environments by way of our manufacturing and end product. It also happens to yield the largest color gamut and resolution to the customer. What’s the draw back? It costs a little more.

Our house stocks that we choose to use are all purchased with quality and the environment in mind as well as cost. While most of our competitors go with the cheapest product with minimum quality standards we make sure that we don’t. Balancing affordability with environmentalism and quality is our goal. What’s the drawback? It costs a little more.

In an effort to produce a better future for the earth we all have to chip in a little. Other companies don’t even give you that chance. We do. It’s at the core of who we are as a company. It’s part of our daily decision-making process. Buying from us you can be sure that you’re getting a fair price but not a price or a product that comes at the expense of the planet