Sustainability Infographics from Sappi Go

We are all familiar with the phrase that “a picture paints a thousand words.”  And perhaps more to the point - with visual communication - we don’t have to take the time to read a thousand words to fully grasp a concept.

Our 2013 Sustainability Report is full of original photographic images that showcase the investments in our mills, our employees and our engagement in local communities.  We have also introduced another powerful infographic that focuses on Water Usage in the Papermaking.   In prior years we have used infographics to convey the life cycle of papermaking and another to illustrate the challenges and trade-offs associated with using recycled fiber in coated fine papers.  Due to popular demand, each of these infographics is now available for download on our eQ microsite as well as our etc site.

Rethinking recycled fiber: using facts and science to combat common myths Go

When I assumed my current role with Sappi our leadership made it clear from day one that we would not shy away from tackling tough issues.  We made a commitment that our sustainability communications would be grounded in facts and science – and the tagline of “proof versus empty promises” from our first eQ Journal remains my mantra.

While society as a whole continues to make great strides in thinking more holistically – considering environmental and social impacts of products from material acquisition through disposal – there remain huge gaps in understanding on some basic issues.  When it comes to paper, the myths and facts about the use of recycled content are still being debated.  

A common myth: using recycled fiber is always better for the environment

The facts: it depends on the product and the mill of manufacture.

Paper is simply not one thing – paper products are used in a wide variety of common applications like tissue, packaging and communication papers. And there are a host of specialty applications ranging from building  materials (eg. insulation, counter tops and flooring) to automotive applications (like gaskets and brake liners).  Different types of paper products require different types of pulp fibers to produce them  - and in some cases, using recycled fiber simply doesn’t make sense – environmentally or economically.

I often ask people to pause and consider the differences between an egg carton and a premium printing grade like Somerset web.  Egg cartons are often made of recycled newsprint;  mottled grey in appearance because the paper didn’t have to be deinked.  For our use, post consumer waste must be deinked, bleached and cleaned to remove any type of contaminant.  Intuitively, many people can see that given a choice – it makes more sense to use recovered paper in applications that require less treatment and creates less waste.

To help further quantify the overall impacts, we embarked on a cradle-to-gate analysis of greenhouse gas emissions for our mills.  This type of analysis is complex and it literally took us years of work to select a modeling tool, learn the tool, and then build a model for our operations.

The results are clear:  adding recycled fiber to products made at our Somerset Mill in Skowhegan, ME actually increased the carbon footprint of those products.  Specifically, adding 10% recycled content raises the carbon footprint by 16% over the same product made with virgin fiber.

For a detailed look at our LCA journey, readers can download copies of our whitepaper series.  We have completed three issues on the Life Cycle Assessment of Paper Products as follows:

Volume 4.1   Part One - The Basics

Volume 4.2  Part Two - The Impact of Methodology on the Life Cycle Analysis of Paper Products

Volume 4.3Part Three - The Carbon Footprint of Sappi’s Somerset Mill and the Impact of Recycled Fiber

Rest assured: we are strong advocates for recycling outreach and education.  All of Sappi’s coated fine papers are recyclable and we always encourage the use of “please recycle” logos and claims on printed pieces.  As individuals, we all have opportunities to recycle more paper.  Once paper is recovered, the key is to put that fiber to best use.

Long before the first Earth Day and before resource conservation was a widespread passionate cause, the rag pickers and peddlers who called on shops, factories and homeowners to collect their discards laid the foundation for the 21st century’s paper recycling industry.

From the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Issue of Recycling Today Magazine (July 2013) 

Click here to see the full article written by editor Brian Taylor

Do we need legislation to help with recycling efforts? Go

Recently, two separate state laws were passed to support recycling programs for paint and mattresses.   These types of laws are known generally as extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation, wherein manufacturers are required to pay fees to support recovery and recycling efforts for their products.  To date, the laws have focused on products that are hazardous or have low recycling rates (e.g. batteries, mercury switches, fluorescent lamps).  

At first, I was somewhat surprised to see Maine joining six other states to enact this type of law for paint.   As a taxpaying resident of Portland, Maine I am allowed to drop up to 10 gallons per year of oil or enamel paint at my local recycling facility – at no charge.  For latex paint, there is clear guidance on how to solidify and dispose of leftovers.  A quick search revealed several other options within driving distance, most of which are free for local residents.  And there are many additional facilities in Maine where consumers (including non-residents) can pay for proper disposal of paint.     

In looking at the evolution of EPR it becomes clear that the driving force for the change is not just to provide access for recovery.  Rather the primary incentive is to shift the cost burden from municipalities to the producer.   And what will producers do?  Most likely they will pass the cost along to consumers.   In fact a paint law in Connecticut has resulted in a $0.75 per gallon fee for consumers.    I do anticipate that paint disposal will become more accessible if every store that sells paint must also take it back, however it remains to be seen as to whether this is a cost effective solution. 

Meanwhile people are studying two programs in Canada (Ontario and British Columbia) that have used this type of legislation to cover commonly recycled materials including packaging and printed materials. And there are efforts underway to look at similar legislation in the US.  Our trade association is monitoring the development of these laws closely in an effort to understand how this may affect the pulp and paper industry.  It is arguable that we simply don’t need EPR for paper products. The recovery rate for paper has exceeded 60% since 2009.  And nearly 70% of US households have access to paper recycling facilities (either curbside or drop off).

Of course, a strong recovery rate alone doesn’t prevent a municipality from looking for ways to cut costs of recycling programs.  But, for paper, municipalities should be reaping benefits as the markets for recovered paper are very strong.  In fact paper markets are so competitive that roughly 40% of recovered paper is exported to meet the high demands of overseas customers.

There are still paper products destined for landfills and much effort underway to identify and expand solutions for “hard to recycle” products such as wax coated board or soiled paper (like napkins or food contaminated packing).  There are a host of alternatives to recycling, including composting programs and waste-to-energy solutions.  The key is to maximize recycling where possible and continue to develop a portfolio of solutions for other products or hard to reach locations.

As individuals it behooves us all to understand these issues so that we don’t see costs simply shift from our taxes to potentially end up as inflated fees levied at the store shelves.  For commonly recycled materials like paper and paperboard, I believe we are best suited to rely on the market based programs that exist.  Collectively we need to continue to find the best means for keeping other paper based products out of landfills.  We can do better.

How many times can paper fiber be recycled? Go

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.”


FTC “Green Guides” warn against making deceptive claims about recycled content Go

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

Consider the connection between water usage and energy savings Go

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.

We have an excellent track record on sustainability as an industry, and we need to collectively educate consumers to correct any misperceptions that may be contradictory. The Paper Check-off would allow us to showcase paper and paper-based products with a singular voice to benefit the industry as a whole.

Mark Gardner, President and CEO

Sappi Fine Paper North America.  

From a recent press release in support of the Paper Check-off program.

Check out this video - another good overview of a single stream recycling facility. Take note of the challenges to the system and do your part to keep these items out: plastic bags, string, rope and over-sized plastic items.  

I thought it was interesting that they don’t accept glass at this facility - I can only imagine that they don’t have a market for the materials.  They also call out the primary end uses for recovered, mixed paper: newspaper, cardboard boxes, tissue and insulation.

A word (or two) about eco-labels and claims Go

It seems everywhere we turn we see eco-labels and environmental claims– from appliances and cleaning supplies to apparel and automobiles.   Labels are also ubiquitous on paper products.  And why not?  We have a lot of environmental attributes to be proud of in our industry.  That said, it is not necessary to list every attribute every time we use paper. And with the revised FTC Green Guides finally released, there is reason for marketers to use caution.  Let’s use an example. Today I spotted a claim on a small brown paper bag (a food package) that read:

“This paper contains up to 60% post consumer recycled content and is biodegradable, recyclable and compostable.”

Up to 60%?  I’m honestly not quite sure what the brand owner is trying to convey.  60% on average?  I’m not sure…and would advise more specificity. 

Biodegradable, recyclable and compostable?  I guess the intent is to cover all bases.  Let’s take them one at a time: 

“Compostable” can be an important claim – especially for applications that often don’t get recycled – like direct contact food packaging, tissue paper or tea bags.   If you want to make a compostable claim, make sure you’ve done your homework and you have the test data to back up the claim.  According to the green guides:

Marketers who claim a product is compostable need competent and reliable scientific evidence that all materials in the product or package will break down into — or become part of — usable compost safely and in about the same time as the materials with which it is composted.

Marketers should qualify compostable claims if the product can’t be composted at home safely or in a timely way. Marketers also should qualify a claim that a product can be composted in a municipal or institutional facility if the facilities aren’t available to a substantial majority of consumers.

The access to composting is growing in the US, but it is still not nearly as common as recycling facilities.  

And what about “biodegradable”?  According to the green guides:

Marketers may make an unqualified degradable claim only if they can prove that the “entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.” The “reasonably short period of time” for complete decomposition of solid waste products? One year.

The guides go on to say:

Items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so unqualified biodegradable claims for them shouldn’t be made.

To put it briefly – we should not be using biodegradable claims on paper products.  Period. 

Recycling is one of the paper industry’s greatest success stories.  Since 1990, the recycling rate in the US has doubled and paper is recycled at far higher rates than other materials.  But there is still room to do more.  People are more apt to engage in a behavior after being prompted - so be an advocate for recycling. Push for recycling initiatives at home, in the workplace and in your community. Put “please recycle” in a prominent place on printed materials your company produces.  When appropriate promote reuse and then recycling as an option.  

Remember the waste management mantra:  Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.  And then compost. In that order.