Recycled Paper Facts

On this page we answer frequently asked questions on paper production and green publishing. If you have a paper or publishing question that you do not see addressed here, please leave us a comment at the bottom of the page and we'll see about including it!



  • Why do our paper choices matter?

  • Forests are one of our most treasured resources, but they are disappearing at the rate of 20 football fields per second because of pulp and paper production. Nearly 50% of all trees harvested in North America are turned into some type of paper product. Global production in the pulp, paper and publishing sector is expected to increase by 77% from 1995 to 2020, so we must act now to preserve our forests. Using post-consumer recycled paper reduces the need to log forests. Additionally, the paper industry consumes much more than just our forests. Producing paper from virgin fiber is both energy and water intensive, and releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Using recycled paper measurably reduces these impacts. Every ton of recycled fiber that displaces a ton of virgin fiber results in the following reductions in usage:

    • Wood - 100%
    • Total energy consumption - 27%
    • Waste water - 33%
    • Air particulate emissions - 28%
    • Solid waste - 54%


    Using recycled paper is THE most important step in reducing a magazine’s ecological footprint. Paper accounts for approximately 40% of the solid waste clogging up U.S. landfills, and while recycling has increased in years past, recovered printing and writing grades of paper remain extremely low. Publishers have an opportunity to create the market for ever-increasing rates of recycled office paper.

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  • What makes Better Paper better?
  • Better Paper refers to paper with a cleaner, greener, more efficient paper production process at every stage - including pulping, paper-making, printing, distribution and recycling. Here is a table of some better paper ingredients vs. “old-school” and brand-risking ingredients:

    Better Paper
    Lighter basis weight Heavier basis weight
    Recycled content & agricultural residue Virgin tree-fiber & GMO trees
    Oxygen delignification, Processed Chlorine-Free
    & Totally Chlorine-Free
    Inefficient and lower-yield Elemental Chlorine-Free
    Forest Stewardship Council certification Weak certification (SFI, CSA, PEFC) or no certification at all
    No/Low carbon energy sources: Wind, Solar, & Biogas Heavy carbon energy sources: Coal, Oil, and Biomass

    The bad news is that virtually all magazine grade paper contains most of the “brand-risk” ingredients and few, if any, of the better paper ingredients. The good news is that doesn’t have to be the case. There are many different environmentally-responsible paper options on the market from a variety of different paper mills, merchants and printers.
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  • Is Better Paper easily available?

  • The notion that ecopapers are not yet a reliable source for magazines is simply myth. In fact, enough recycled paper is produced to supply an industry-wide switch to 10% post-consumer recycled paper as early as tomorrow. It is wise to be concerned about the long-term availability for deinked post-consumer recycled fiber, and this exemplifies how recycling is a “system” that requires robust participation in recycling’s “three chasing arrows”: a) recycling, or diversion from landfills and incinerators; b) producing recycled paper from the deinked fibers; and c) purchasing the recycled paper.


    According to the American Forest and Paper Association, paper and paperboard recycling was at 63.4% in 2010. The majority of the paper and paperboard being recycled is paperboard, or paper of a cardboard-like stock. Unfortunately, valuable high-grade office paper is recycled at extremely low levels. A concerted effort by purchasers, governments, and producers would create the market demand necessary to recover the valuable high-grade office paper that would be quality furnish for magazine paper. These actions will thereby help to create a reliable supply of ecopapers.

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  • Does Better Paper cost more?

  • Publishers no longer have to pay more for using ecopapers and products. Recycled papers are now available at prices competitive to virgin fiber papers. It is counter intuitive to pay more for paper made from recycled material than virgin paper, which requires the cutting of new trees and processing from scratch. In cases where price differentials apply, there are ways to stick to your budget and still use the ecopaper you want. For instance, investigate if the Better Paper Buying Club can help you aggregate your volumes with other magazines to get lower prices.


    Having said that, the reality can be quite different from the way it should be. The sad fact is that most paper manufacturers have built mills that are exceedingly efficient at turning tree fiber into pulp, but are not built to input deinked fiber into the production process in a cost efficient way. For this to change, mills need to see that there is a demand for recycled papers so that the next time they build mills or make improvements to existing mills they will do so in a way that makes the use of deinked fiber cost effective.


    However, publishers using ecopapers can effectively keep costs down by planning ahead and working closely with their printers and suppliers. Beating price differentials simply means knowing how much paper you will need and purchasing accordingly. Purchasing in large quantities is one way to keep costs low. Some publishers, such as Deborah Thomas of Extra! Magazine, have purchased an entire year’s supply of ecopaper and saved on the switch. Printers often agree to provide storage for such large quantities of paper. Cooperative buying is another strategy for alleviating unnecessary costs.

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  • I've heard that recycled papers aren't as good quality as virgin fiber papers - is that true?

  • The quality of recycled paper and environmentally preferable printing processes has improved dramatically in recent years. Modern deinking technology produces high performance recycled paper that meets the same technical specifications as virgin papers. Therefore, the notion that virgin-fiber paper is of better quality than recycled paper is just another myth.

    Ecopaper products are available in a wide variety of brightness, opacity, and smoothness levels, satisfying all publishers’ needs. Just about all paper companies produce some papers with post-consumer recycled content. Magazines on the market today with recycled content range from 30- and 40-percent post-consumer recycled content to as much as 100% post-consumer recycled content and look great.


    Publications that rely on superior quality paper are increasingly using recycled products, and as publisher testimonials indicate, the result has been positive. The "usual suspects" such as Mother Earth News and Audubon are now joined on the newsstand by ecopaper converts, Motorcycle Classics, Fast Company and American Cowboy.

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  • How is chlorine used in the paper production process? Is it necessary?

  • In order to make paper “brighter,” wood fibers are often bleached with chlorine or chlorine compounds. When these bleaching agents are combined with organic matter such as wood fibers, one byproduct is dioxin, a known human carcinogen. According to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory report, paper production is a leading industrial source of dioxin. In the paper bleaching process, dioxin finds its way into the environment, contaminating water, soil, and our food supply. Dioxin bioaccumulates in the fat of fish, seabirds, and mammals, and it has been associated with cancers, lymphomas, diabetes, immune system disorders, and birth defects. Health experts warn pregnant women against consuming certain types of fish because of the associated risk of dioxin contamination to a developing fetus.


    Most paper mills have adopted elemental chlorine free bleaching procedures that produce less dioxin than standard chlorine bleaching. This is primarily due to the 1997 EPA “Cluster Rule” which set limits on toxics released to the air and water by the pulp and paper industry. While this rule has required improved practices, even a small amount of dioxin can wreak havoc on the environment. A “no chlorine” policy is the best policy, and publishers should aim for using the most recycled content in combination with alternatives to chlorine bleaching in order to make the biggest environmental difference. Go to the Environmental Paper Network’s Web page to read the Common Vision and the hierarchy of pulping and bleaching technologies.


    Technological advances have given us great alternatives for whitening paper. Magazine publishers can work with their paper suppliers to find a suitable paper that eliminates or minimizes the use of chlorine. Here are chlorine alternatives to choose from (beginning with the best environmental choice):


    • Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) applies to recovered paper fiber and means the recycled and deinked paper fibers are whitened without any chlorine. Since we value both forest conservation and reducing unnecessary chemical use, we advocate PCF as the most environmentally preferable option.
    • Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) paper is also whitened without any chlorine bleaching, but can only apply to virgin fiber paper and not to recycled paper. If TCF is the option you desire then you should make sure all virgin fiber is 100% FSC-certified, and not extracted from endangered forests or illegally logged areas.
    • Enhanced ECF with ozone or hydrogen peroxide substitutes ozone or hydrogen peroxide for chlorine or chlorine dioxides as a brightening agent in the initial stages of the bleaching process. This process is inferior to PCF and TCF because it does use chlorine gas in the final stage of bleaching. However, compared to the processes outlines below, this process is preferable because it further improves the quality of the wastewater and enables recovery of most mill wastewater by 70 to 90% compared to traditional ECF.
    • Enhanced ECF with extended or oxygen delignification removes more lignin from the wood before bleaching than the traditional ECF method. Therefore, fewer bleaching chemicals are required. In addition, compared with traditional ECF, this process reduces energy consumption by 30%, improves the quality of mill wastewater, and reduces the quantity of mill wastewater by nearly 50%.
    • Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) is a bleaching process that substitutes chlorine dioxide for elemental chlorine. Compared to elemental chlorine bleaching processes, ECF bleaching reduces the formation of many chlorinated organic compounds. However, it does not completely eliminate them and the quantity of effluent from mills is not reduced.

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  • Can Better Paper use coatings, or is that a no-no?

  • As a visual medium, it goes without saying that a magazine’s look is an important selling point. For most magazine publishers achieving the desired look means using a coated paper. However, coatings introduce a specific set of environmental concerns, particularly as they complicate the recycling process. There are different types of coatings, separated not only by composition but also by function. Clay coating is applied at high-pressure to add a glossy finish or shine to magazine paper prior to printing. This coating improves the opacity of the paper, helping to prevent any bleeding through of inks. The vast majority of magazines currently use this type of coated paper. A second coating is sometimes applied after printing to seal the inks onto the paper.


    When magazines are discarded for recycling, the clay and final sealant coatings act as contaminants in the recycling process and must be fully separated from the paper. Complete separation is not always easy, and failing to remove coatings from the mix results in the production of low grade recycled paper. A final sealing coat adds an additional level of contaminants that must be removed during recycling. Sealants often contain polymers (plastic-type substances), which are even more difficult to separate from paper. This final coating is also potentially harmful to the environment, as its application can result in the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are suspected carcinogens and contributors to ozone depletion. UV coating also guzzles tremendous amounts of energy, calling for intense heat and a UV light source.


    Both clay and UV coatings reduce the recyclability of magazine paper. Deinking mills tend to accept less coated paper because when the paper and clay are separated, the quantity of clay nearly equals that of the usable paper fiber. For these reasons, coated and re-coated magazine paper is less than desirable from the viewpoint of deinking mills. The best environmental choice is to go with an uncoated paper whenever possible. There are uncoated paper options available that contain as high as 100% postconsumer recycled content, and maintain superior print quality. Publishers should try to avoid using the second UV coat. If your paper must be coated, make sure the coating is VOC-free, or a non-volatile varnish.


    For a greener publication with maximum sustainability: Work with a printer to find uncoated magazine paper. High quality matte finish products exist that will improve a publication’s readability, maintain appeal and make it more recyclable. If altogether avoiding coated paper is not an immediate possibility, get rid of the extra recycling hassle of a sealing coat. Eliminating polymers from the mix makes magazine recycling more effective. If a final sealing coat remains necessary, commit to using VOC-free options. Choose a non-volatile varnish and/or water-based coating. Printers can help determine what eco option makes the most sense. For information on coats and finding the best choice, visit Ecoprint and Quad/Graphics.

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  • Are there Better Inks that we should consider using with our Better Paper?

  • The scope of the publishing industry’s ecological footprint is not limited to paper use. Inks, too, can leave a “black mark” on the environment. Standard printing inks often contain harmful agents that contaminate the environment and compromise human health. Using new environmentally beneficial printing technologies and choosing to print with ecologically sound agri-based inks are now viable options and a good way to begin alleviating the problems caused by inks.


    Problem: Heavy Metals and Solvents

    Toxic heavy metals and solvents in inks pose the most significant environmental problems. Lead, cadmium and barium are a few of the highly toxic heavy metals found in some inks and these can easily seep into the environment, contaminating our soil and groundwater. Concentrations of heavy metals in the human body have been linked to serious neurological disorders, particularly in developing brains. Petroleum products and solvents typically consisting of alcohol or different hydrocarbons are also common ingredients used in inks. Most solvents are toxic and nearly all release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere as they dry. VOCs are a well-known culprit in the problem of ozone depletion.


    Non-toxic, biodegradable vegetable-based inks were in standard use prior to the 1960s, when petroleum products started becoming a major ingredient in these new “higher-performing” inks. It is now clear that many of the so-called advancements attributable to petroleum-based inks have adverse effects on the environment. Recent technological advances have not only created better performing agri-based inks, but have also developed ways to capture significant amounts of VOCs, preventing them from entering the environment.


    Solution: Eco Inks

    Publishers have access to more eco options than ever before and inks are no exception, with a variety of choices beyond standard inks, ranging from recycled, non-toxic and soy to other smart agri-alternatives.

    While most inks are still petroleum-based, some ink manufacturers now substitute renewable and biodegradable resources (such as soy, linseed, and corn oils) for most or all of the petroleum. Vegetable oil replacement ink meets the same specifications as petroleum-based ink, and it does not release a significant volume of VOCs into the air when it dries. Agri-based inks are produced without toxins and biodegrade, effectively eliminating environmental, health and safety hazards. When alternative materials such as agri-inks are not adequate or available, facilities can reduce emissions through “control and capture technology.” Using ventilation systems, emissions are guided to devices which capture the VOCs. Captured emissions are either destroyed or re-used on similar applications. Ask your printer about agri-based inks made with renewable oils, recycled inks, and inks that are heavy metal-free.


    Using More Eco-friendly Inks is Simple:

    • Work with printers to find a line of vegetable or soy-based inks that suit a publication’s needs. Most importantly, be sure that inks use a renewable resource base. If for some reason this is an unavailable option, stay true to sustainability principles and work to find recycled inks.
    • Always use inks free of heavy metals.
    • Avoid metallic and neon inks, which typically contain higher levels of toxins.
    • Eliminating VOC-releasing products is an important step toward greening your ink.

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