Looking for a Green Resolution for 2011? Could It Be Laying Off the Recycled?

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Did you know that in the paper community, it’s an open secret that recycled paper has a higher carbon footprint than virgin paper? It’s more evidence that things in the environmental world are not always as conventional wisdom would suggest.

What factors impact the carbon footprint of recycled paper?

  • transportation of the fiber (distance of the collection center from the recycled mill)
  • de-inking process
  • bleaching method and chemicals used
  • disposal of the de-inking waste (which can be landfilled)
  • energy use and production inefficiency of many recycled mills (which can often be older plants with less efficient technology)

These, among other factors, can make the carbon footprint of recycled papers double that of papers made from virgin fiber from sustainably managed forests. (They key here is “sustainably managed.”) Especially if the mill is close to the fiber supply, virgin papers can be much kinder on the environment than papers using recovered fiber.

What about keeping recycled fiber out of the landfill? Isn’t that just as important? Again, in a break from conventional wisdom, paper experts point out that every time the paper is processed, some of the wood fibers break. After you recycle recovered paper enough times, they become so small they slip through the filtration screen. Then they end up in the landfill anyway. All you are doing is delaying the process in order to use the fiber for a less efficient manufacturing process in the meantime.

This is why there are a growing number of voices encouraging people — for the sake of the planet — to lay off the recycled paper and focus on papers manufactured from virgin fiber from sustainably managed forests.

It’s something to think about.

2 thoughts on “Looking for a Green Resolution for 2011? Could It Be Laying Off the Recycled?”

  1. You can come up with an example for anything where there’s an extreme exception under all the right, or wrong, conditions.  But there’s really not authoritative evidence for this assertion, and the article linked is not a credible or unbiased source.  Conservation organizations and the US Environmental Protection Agency are in consensus that making paper from paper is almost always better for the planet than making paper from forests.  But of course we will need virgin fiber too, so please do buy credibly certified (FSC) virgin fiber paper because it does have a lower carbon footprint than the status quo forestry.  And beware of slick marketing from virgin fiber producers trying to confuse this fact.  

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