FEATURE : Talking (post-consumer) trash

A simple answer to a complex problem Although recycled paper has been available to printers for decades, the recycling process left a lot to be desired in the early days. When the pulp was bleached to get it white enough to use, the chemicals from the bleaching process polluted our water. The smoothing process was not designed for the irregularities of recycled material, which resulted in an inferior paper that clogged printing presses with the chaff that was left behind on the rollers. The ink coverage on recycled paper was inconsistent, and there were telltale flecks on each sheet. Luckily, things have come a long way. Today, the bleaching process is chlorine-free, and the “flecks” in the paper have been greatly reduced. Recycled paper runs through the presses without the problems experienced in the past; in fact, some printers prefer recycled paper.

Deciphering the terminology A new lexicon has emerged along with the escalating demand for recycled paper. Below are a few definitions to help you learn the lingo.

Responsible forestry: Our paper should come from responsibly managed forests. There are several watchdog organizations that monitor forestry practices and certify the ones that benefit people, wildlife, and the environment.

Recycled materials: There are two different kinds of recyclable materials—post-consumer and pre-consumer waste. Post-consumer refers to products that household consumers recycle. Pre-consumer refers to paper from printing companies, magazines that were never sold, and any materials used in the manufacturing process.

Recycled content: The higher recycled content a paper contains (either pre- or post-consumer), the less virgin fiber is used. Presently, with uncoated paper, you can choose a high percentage of recycled content [up to 100%] without sacrificing quality. Coated stock generally has a much lower percentage, between 10% and 30%, because of the process used to smooth and coat the paper. As paper mills improve the recycling process, this percentage will certainly increase.

Energy efficiency: Many paper mills are taking advantage of wind or other alternative sources of power. Some mills even work with power companies to provide electricity back to the grid.

Vegetable-based ink: Traditional printing ink used heavy metals and petroleum distillates, and often contained volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Today, most printers use a soy-based ink with very low VOCs.

Certification confusion A multitude of watchdog organizations determine a paper’s level of environmental correctness. Unfortunately, many of the certification groups are relatively new and small. The two largest, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), each employ fewer than 10 employees in the United States and rely on outside auditors. There are minor differences between the two certifications, but both advocate responsible forestry.

Watchdog groups are in a constant state of flux, and more will be appearing to address growing public interest in sustainable recycling practices. Too many cooks in the kitchen, however, can lead to confusion. For example, the organization Friends of the Earth (FoE) no longer recognizes FSC certificates. FoE recently stated that it “is deeply concerned by the number of FSC certifications that are now sparking controversy and threatening the credibility of the scheme. We cannot support a scheme that fails to guarantee high environmental and social standards. As a result we can no longer recommend the FSC standard.”

You could include any of the above logos if you print your piece on sustainable forest-certified paper that’s made from recycled pulp with a chlorine-free process using renewable energy such as wind power, delivered by carbon-neutral methods. Keep in mind, though, that some of these logos have minimum and maximum size requirements and white space allowances. Many of them are poorly designed and add visual clutter to your piece. Some of these logos need to be verified by the issuing organization, and that process can take time and resources that you may not have.

Where do we go from here? The confusion has gotten out of hand; it’s time to simplify. We advise our clients to sidestep the politics with a typed statement on the back of the print piece accompanied by the classic recycle symbol:

Printed on paper from responsibly managed forests using 100% PCW recycled material. Produced using wind power and delivered via carbon-neutral methods.

With that kind of clarity, audiences won’t need a degree in environmental science to know that your organization is doing what it can to encourage responsible printing practices.