It is well understood that paper fibers cannot be recycled indefinitely. The US EPA indicates that papers can be recycled an estimated 4-7 times and the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) cites 5-7 times. The range of reuse depends on both the type of fiber and the subsequent treatment of that fiber. Longer stronger fibers, like softwood kraft fibers used in paper bags, will generally survive longer than a shorter weaker fiber - such as a mechanically pulped hardwood used in newsprint and some magazine grades.
How many times “does” a paper fiber get recycled?
Keeping fiber available for re-use is based on two key metrics - the recovery rate (collection) of different paper products and the subsequent yield in processing.
There is ample data to show that different paper products are recovered at different rates. Corrugated containers lead the charge at over 90% while the rate for printing and writing grades is just about 55%.
When it comes to processing yield, again there are vast differences by product category. Paperboard manufacturers cite yields of 95% or better. According to Ron Fox of paperboard manufacturer, Graphic Packaging International, “When we reuse the fiber, we’re basically just filtering out the non-fibrous, extraneous materials like plastics and metal. We keep all the fiber and additives. So when we’re making containerboard or boxboard, at the lowest our yield is about 90%. Generally we yield about 97% 98%.” The key to the higher yield is to keep the processing to a minimum. Says, Fox, “We don’t deink it, we don’t bleach it, we don’t do anything to degrade that fiber”. (Cited on p. 16 in “Rethinking Recycling”)
At the other end of the spectrum, products such as our coated fine papers require a much cleaner, purer fiber. Cleaning, filtering and processing recovered fiber to meet the tough standards of graphic paper applications requires additional energy and chemicals to raise its quality and separate the fiber from materials such as adhesives, clay and ink. Deinking facilities that produce fibers for use in graphic paper routinely report lower yields – around 70% - with some sources reporting yields as low as 52%.
When we combine the effects of recovery rates and yields, we find that a significant portion of fiber never sees a second use. For example, if we start with 100 tons of office paper fiber and only 55% is collected and then 30% is lost in deinking, less than 40% of the fiber actually ends up recycled after just a single round of recovery and processing.
(100 x 0.55 x 0.7 = 38.5)
So what can we do to keep more fiber in the system?
Step 1. Collect more
As a society we should strive for the highest collection possible. This is one of the reasons we are so passionate about using “please recycle” logos on printed materials.
Step 2. Waste less fiber
We need to face the facts. Clearly paperboard manufacturing is a better use of recycled fiber than premium printing and writing grades. It is important that procurement policies and decisions allow fiber to get put to its best use where it will have higher yield and less environmental impact.
If you want the deep, deep dive on what happens to fibers in recycling, check out this peer reviewed paper by a group of professors at NC State. In their summary they say “…recycling of paper involves many compromises…” and “it can be quite complicated to determine the most appropriate, and even the most ethical way to deal with recycling of paper.”
In support of best practices in marketing claims, we have long warned our customers against using industry average data to make environmental claims about recycled fiber in coated fine papers. Now, more than ever, we urge corporate marketers and advertisers to do their homework.
In October 2012, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated their “Guides for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims” more commonly referred to as the “Green Guides”. In their summary document, highlighted on the cover page, readers will find this statement:
Claiming “Green, made with recycled content” may be deceptive if the environmental costs of using recycled content outweigh the environmental benefits of using it.
Clearly the federal government has seen enough evidence that in some cases recycled content can actually increase the environmental impact. And in fact, this is true for our paper mills in regard to greenhouse gas emissions.
At Sappi, we have studied the impact of using deinked market pulp (recycled fiber) as a substitute for our virgin kraft pulp made on site at our Somerset mill (Skowhegan, ME). Recently published results show that adding 10% recycled fiber increases the carbon footprint by 16% as compared to a product made with 100% virgin fiber. Meanwhile, the EPN’s “Paper Calculator” indicates that for coated freesheet paper (the type we manufacture) adding 10% recycled fiber decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 3%.*
Sappi’s integrated mills use over 80% renewable energy – far more than the industry average – resulting in a lower than average level of greenhouse gas emissions. It is clear that the “Paper Calculator” does not accurately reflect the performance of our mills.
Sappi has fully embraced transparency in reporting and we include a comprehensive set of key performance indicators in our regional sustainability report. We have been long time supporters of the Environmental Paper Assessment Tool wherein users can study and compare actual mill data which is updated annually. With access to so much current, mill specific data, there is no need to resort to using averages for making claims. Worse yet, doing so could lead to deceptive claims.
*Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Paper Network Paper Calculator Version 3.2. For more information visit www.papercalculator.org.
We all have a need to communicate – to share and consume information. For marketing and advertising professionals it is no longer a choice of how to spread dollars between print, radio and TV. The breadth of online options is simply staggering. Meanwhile, sustainability-minded media buyers are juggling a myriad of additional factors – along with cost effectiveness, their choices reflect consideration of environmental and social impacts.
I have often been asked to compare the environmental impact paper vs other media choices; e.g. e-books, electronic greeting cards or online billing vs paper based options. I have refused to embark on this type of comparative study for two basic reasons.
- because nobody “wins” in this type of analysis
- because nobody makes sound choices this way
In other words, no responsible CMO is going to care if an advertising campaign reduced water consumption or cut carbon emissions by 10% if half of the target audience didn’t receive the right message at the right time. The key to a successful campaign is to get the media choices right (most often through multiple platforms) and then design and execute responsibly within each channel.
Companies should buy and dispose of electronic equipment responsibly (tools like EPEAT can help). Good strategies for information storage and retrieval can reduce server loads and the associated environmental impact associated with the use of electronics.
Similarly, when putting ink on paper, it is important to source, use and dispose of materials properly (consider using EPAT or other paper procurement guidelines). Good list hygiene, right-sizing pieces and co-mailing can further reduce the environmental impact associated with printed materials.
It is time to stop pitting paper vs pixels and instead to focus on integrating media choices effectively. The ultimate goal of communications is to deliver the right message to the right person in a means that can be absorbed. Choose your channels for effectiveness and then design and implement with sustainability at top of mind.
The consumption of water and energy is connected in many ways. As such, when one focuses on saving water there is often a reduction in energy consumption and vice versa. This is true whether we are looking at personal usage or industrial usage.
Consider, for example, the water used for a long, hot shower. Shortening the duration of the shower will save on the quantity of water as well as the energy associated in heating the water. Additional water conservation activities such as running a clothes washer or a dishwasher only when full, save both water and energy.
On an industrial scale we see similar effects. For the most part, in paper mills water is delivered to mills from local rivers. The incoming water temperature varies seasonally, but suffice it to say river water in Maine and Minnesota (where our mills are located) is cold. Yet most of the water we use within the mills is hot. And it takes energy to heat that water. Therefore any initiatives that mills undertake to conserve water will typically result in energy savings as well.
Saving electricity also generates indirect savings of water. In fact the thermoelectric power sector accounts for nearly half of all water consumed in the US (roughly 200 million gallons per day). So simply turning off lights and other electrical devices can also lead to water savings.
While many individuals and businesses are motivated by the financial savings associated with conservation, there are also significant environmental benefits to be had. The EPA estimates that if just one percent of American homes was retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year and avoid adding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
For many of us, the transition to a new year causes pause for reflection and inspires goal setting. I have seen several stories listing “top ten” resolutions for 2013 and it likely comes as no surprise that spending more time with friends, losing weight, and giving up vices rank high on such lists. But I did not see much concern for the environment revealed in these lists. At the start of 2013 we also found ourselves teetering at the edge of the fiscal cliff. So herein, I offer a handful of suggestions for eco-resolutions that can have a positive impact on the environment and also create financial savings.
1. Invest in better light bulbs. If you are still using incandescent bulbs you are missing out on some low hanging fruit. According to the Energy Star website:
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a light bulb that’s earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.
2. Drive less. Think about carpooling, using public transportation or better yet – bike or walk to work if you can. All of these options will no doubt save money on gas, parking and car maintenance while reducing CO2 emissions. According to the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator, the average US vehicle is driven 240 miles per week, emitting 12,500 lbs of CO2 per year.
3. Consider your water bill. I fixed a leaky toilet recently and found that a one-time $7.00 investment will return over $15.00 in savings each year. Plus that annoying sound of the tank refilling goes away. If you are looking for other ways to reduce your water footprint, consider the impact of washing (and drying) clothes. A life cycle study analysis (LCA) conducted by Levi’s found that a pair of jeans consumes over 900 gallons of water in its lifetime (roughly half of which is consumed in the supply chain and the other half from washing). They also found that 50% of the climate impact of a pair of jeans can be saved by washing in cold water and then hanging them to dry.
4. Drink tap water. If you don’t have a refillable water bottle by now, it’s time to splurge. At one point the Grand Canyon National Park found that 20% of their waste stream was comprised of disposable plastic bottles. In an effort to reduce their waste handling costs, they banned the sale of bottled water within the park and installed free water filling stations. They also make affordable souvenir bottles available for visitors. Water quality in the US is outstanding. I am personally not in favor of banning bottled water because I think it’s a great alternative to other drinks for people on the go. But when you can drink tap water, it’s a cost effective option that can reduce consumption of packaging materials.
5. Recycle more. We’re getting better and better about recycling paper products in the US – but there are still many opportunities for improvements. I personally don’t think I can do much better with paper, but my own goal for 2013 is to focus on plastic bags and especially plastic films. Many towns have implemented Pay-As-You-Throw systems for household waste - charging for trash bags whereas recycling is free. So every little bit helps and, for me, focusing on plastic is my next recycling frontier. What’s yours?
Mark Gardner, President and CEO
Sappi Fine Paper North America.