Making Sense of Paper Choices

Certified…virgin…recovered…mixed…recycled…pre-consumer…post-consumer…alternative … ag-res…tree-free.  With so many choices, what’s a brand communications professional to do?

At EarthColor, we do our best to make it easy and simple for you.  As your valued partner, we continue to research and innovate—discovering and developing new environmentally friendly options to minimize your (and our) eco-footprint.

Why not just rely on using recycled paper?  It’s not that simple.  Even though 66.8% of all paper used in the U.S. is recovered for recycling, there’s simply not enough to meet all of our needs indefinitely.  Besides, paper fibers can only be recycled five to seven times before they become too short and weak to make paper.

The good news is that our choices are expanding.  Alternative sources and processes identified as “green” are becoming part of the printmaking repertoire; some for traditional uses, others for novelty print items.  To help you sort through the expanding list of paper classifications, we’ve put together a short glossary of terms.

Certified paper: Paper that meets third-party global standards for responsible forest management as well as economic, social and environmental criteria.  Most of the paper EarthColor uses is Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified by the Rainforest Alliance.  Two other internationally recognized certification programs are managed by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification™ (PEFC™).

Virgin fiber:  Paper made from 100% cellulose fiber from trees and other plants that has been newly pulped and unused. (EPA)

Recovered paper:  White and brown grades of paper, paperboard and fibrous material collected from homes, offices and retail stores via municipal solid waste collections; manufacturing waste from the paper and paperboard making process (trimmings and cuttings); or re-pulped finished paper and paperboard from obsolete inventory.  (EPA, ISO, RISI)

Mixed paper:  Paper of various grades, colors, finishes and coatings mixed together, including discarded material, old telephone books, magazines and catalogs.  (EPA, ISRI)

Recycled paper/recycled content:  Paper made of 100% post-consumer recovered fiber is considered recycled.  Paper containing less than 100% recycled fiber is termed recycled content. (FTC, ISO)

Pre-consumer fiber:  Paper made from wood fiber or materials derived from the waste stream during the manufacturing process for paper or paperboard can be considered pre-consumer fiber.  That includes paper and paperboard created after the manufacturing process or re-pulped from obsolete inventory.  (EPA, ISO)

Post-consumer fiber:  Paper made from used paper and paperboard collected from homes, offices, retail stores and other commercial, industrial and institutional users.  It is then re-pulped and re-processed into paper and paperboard.  (EPA, ISO)

Alternative paper:  This category encompasses a wide range of paper (old and new) that is made from non-wood fiber and plant sources, including agricultural residue and “tree-free” sources.

Ag-res, Agri-pulp:  Both abbreviations refer to paper made from agricultural residue (straw) or by-products that remain after crops are harvested.  The best contenders for residue straw that have been used successfully in paper manufacturing are wheat, rice, barley, rye, corn and grass seed.

Tree-free papers:  This category encompasses a broad range of non-wood, non-plant sources that can be made into paper.  While some can result in standard paper and paperboard, others are being used for novelty papers and items like note cards and stationery.  Many contain a blend of recycled wood fiber and tree-free fiber content.  Common sources:  Hemp, kenaf, bamboo, bagasse and cotton (for expensive stationery and currency).  Among the more unusual sources:  Beer mash and beer bottle labels (60% content with 40% tree-fiber), reused/recovered clothing fabric, bananas, coffee beans, citrus and tobacco.  And lastly, novelty eco-source: animal excrement, particularly elephant dung used in note cards and stationery, sourced in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and parts of Africa.

EarthColor continues to do its part by working with ENGO partner Canopy on their Second Harvest campaign to expand the number of pulp mills in Canada and the U.S. that can process agricultural residue for Ag-Res papers.

Contact us today to learn which choice works best for your next project.

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