Buying Better Copy Paper
Ever since a government employee in China invented paper almost 2,000 years ago, governments have been using paper as the primary means to explain government policies. What more and more governments are beginning to realize, however, is that the paper itself also says a lot about a government’s policies. Buying recycled-content, process-chlorine free paper (PCF), that was not made with trees from endangered forests, for example, is increasingly viewed as an important indicator of the value a government agency or private-sector company places on protecting human health and reducing related environmental impacts.
Promoting “Green” Copy Paper Purchases
Most governments promote the use of recycled-content and other environmentally preferable papers. Many, however, also continue to make it easy to buy traditional copy papers that contain zero recycled content (“virgin” papers) by permitting individual agencies to determine whether to support the recycled content purchasing goals. (See Table 1.)
As the public increasingly recognizes the human health and environmental impacts associated with virgin papers, more governments are beginning to strengthen their commitments to recycled content and other environmentally preferable papers. Some governments are refusing to provide virgin papers under contract and are only offering more environmentally preferable options. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), for example, only offers copy papers containing at least 30 percent postconsumer recycled content. At least five states—Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Vermont—also only offer copy paper containing at least 30 percent postconsumer content. While both Maryland and Pennsylvania continue to offer virgin papers, both report that more than 95 percent of their copy paper purchases contain recycled content.
GSA and others also increasingly offer a wide variety of other environmentally preferable papers as the following examples illustrate:
• Minnesota, Ohio, and Vermont require copy papers to be manufactured in a PCF manner, which reduces dioxin emissions by eliminating the use of chlorine and chlorine derivatives during the manufacturing process. Arkansas, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon have established goals to move towards PCF papers.
• Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont want to buy papers certified by the Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) to ensure the paper is manufactured with PCF methods. They have also set goals to buy copy papers certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as a way to ensure the papers they are buying were not manufactured with trees from old growth or endangered forests. South Carolina has established a similar goal, but they are not currently pursuing FSC certification requirements.
• Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Vermont report that more than three-quarters of their copy paper purchases contain at least 30 percent postconsumer recycled content. Many others make recycled-content papers available, but have not yet achieved such significant usage.
• Vermont only buys copy paper containing at least 60 percent postconsumer recycled content manufactured with PCF methods.
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters and several EPA regions only buy copy paper containing at least 50 percent postconsumer recycled content manufactured with PCF methods.
• Maryland, Minnesota, and Vermont report that 10 percent or more of their copy paper purchases contain at least 85 percent postconsumer recycled content.
• Seattle, WA, recently established a goal to buy only 100 percent postconsumer recycled-content copy paper.
• Washington hopes at least half of its copy paper purchases will contain at least 50 percent postconsumer content by September 2009.
• Paper purchases for Portland, OR, must either exceed their minimum 30 percent postconsumer requirement or demonstrate that a portion of its non-postconsumer content originates from a sustainably managed source. Portland also asks suppliers to submit chain of custody documentation to confirm the origin of the wood used to produce the paper and the way in which it was processed.
Protecting Human Health and Reducing Related Environmental Impacts
One of the reasons governments focus on improving their paper purchases is that paper is a commodity for which the general public understands the direct human health and environmental impacts. U.S. copy paper use consumes 100 million mature trees every year, which means almost half of the trees cut in North America are used for producing paper. The paper industry in the Southern United States alone consumes 5 million acres of forests each year, an area equal to the size of New Jersey.
The paper industry also uses more fresh water to produce a ton of product than any other industry. It is estimated that each sheet of copy paper takes 13 ounces of water to produce, more than the contents of a typical soda can. The paper industry is the second largest industrial user of energy. It ranks third in toxic chemical releases and fourth in emission of air pollutants known to impair respiratory health.
Specifying Better Copy Papers
Many organizations interested in buying more environmentally preferable copy papers have historically been overwhelmed with a barrage of conflicting advice from the environmental community. The environmentalists talk about recycled-content, tree-free alternatives such as kenaf or hemp, using agricultural wastes to make paper, alternative bleaching technologies, and other related issues. There are papers made from exotic materials such as banana peels, old blue jeans, and coffee pulp. Which environmental attributes are really most important?
To introduce some consistency to their recommendations, the Environmental Paper Network (a group of 75 environmental organizations) met in November 2002 to prioritize the most relevant environmental attributes. They produced a “Common Vision for Transforming the Paper Industry” that prioritizes specific recommendations for the purchasing community. The recommendations include:
• Make a public commitment to buy more environmentally preferable papers.
• Reduce paper consumption by buying office equipment capable of double-sided printing and showing end users how they can save money by reducing paper use.
• Maximize the postconsumer recycled content of all paper purchases.
• Buy papers that are guaranteed not to harm endangered forests by requesting FSC certification.
• Give preference to papers made without chlorine or chlorine derivatives (e.g., PCF).
The Common Vision and additional environmental paper purchasing information is available at www.govinfo.by/4590-261.
In addition to the purchasing recommendations from the environmental community, a group of large private-sector purchasers is currently developing a fee-based service to obtain standardized environmental information from paper manufacturers. The Paper Working Group includes 11 well-known companies, including Bank of America, FedEx-Kinko’s, Hewlett Packard, Nike, Staples, and Starbucks.
The companies are collecting data for more than 30 indicators to quantify the pollutants associated with specific papers, the mills that manufacture the paper, and the companies that operate the mills. Once finalized, interested purchasers will be able to use the Environmental Paper Assessment Tool to prioritize their individual environmental requirements and automatically screen them against the confidential industry information. The tool will produce an environmental score for each paper. The resulting scores, based on each purchaser’s specific environmental priorities, can then be integrated into the decision making process to easily balance price, performance, and environmental requirements.
While the Paper Working Group project is still in its pilot phase and has not yet been endorsed by the environmental community, it is expected that environmental organizations will eventually develop recommendations to help purchasers use the information to compare papers. Additional information on the Paper Working Group is available at www.govinfo.bz/4590-262.
Addressing Quality and Performance Issues
In the early 1980s when buyers began aggressively seeking environmentally preferable copy papers, some vendors sold them very low quality papers that were never designed for use in high speed copiers or fax machines. After an initial
period of excitement, markets for these inferior-quality papers quickly disappeared.
Paper manufacturing technologies have improved dramatically since the early 1980s. Recycled content and other environmentally preferable papers now perform just as well as virgin papers.
Unfortunately, many of the deficiencies of the early recycled-content papers continue to plague the perceptions of some paper buyers and end users. As a result, a few people continue to assume that any poor performance issue is related to recycled content rather than to more common factors that equally affect both recycled-content and virgin papers.
The following section refutes a few persistent misconceptions that prevent some purchasers from buying recycled-content papers. Despite the myths, the facts are:
n If you want recycled-content copy paper, you must specify it. A few people mistakenly believe that all copy paper contains some recycled content. In reality, less than 10 percent of copy papers contain any postconsumer fiber.
n Recycled-content copy paper performs just as well as virgin papers. In 1998, the U.S. Government Printing Office, U.S. Conference of Mayors, Cannon, Hewlett-Packard, and Lexmark tested more than two million sheets of paper on a wide variety of copiers and printers. Recycled-content papers performed just as well as virgin paper. Buyers Laboratory, Inc., an independent testing laboratory for copiers, printers, and fax machines, also routinely tests a variety of recycled-content and virgin papers as part of its office product evaluations. It reports “no noticeable difference in the runnability of recycled paper versus virgin paper.”
In addition, the U.S. Government Printing Office evaluates papers against its JCP-065 copier paper standard and identifies dozens of environmentally preferable papers meeting the standard. For a copy of the JCP-065 standard and a list of papers meeting it, visit www.govinfo.bz/4590-263.
• Office equipment warrantees permit the use of recycled-content copy papers. Before the quality of recycled-content copy paper was improved, some office equipment manufacturers used to actively discourage its use. All major office equipment manufacturers currently permit the use of recycled-content papers. Some manufacturers such as Xerox and Hewlett Packard even sell recycled-content papers under their own brand names.
• Paper jams occur just as frequently with virgin paper. In addition to the studies mentioned above, other studies have also concluded that virgin copy paper is just as likely to jam as recycled-content papers. Pennsylvania, in fact, reported no jamming problems until it temporarily switched from recycled to virgin papers. The 1995 Paper Task Force Report published by Environmental Defense concluded that “Frequency of copier machine jams is not correlated with the use of recycled-content paper.” Virgin copy papers “curl” just as frequently as recycled-content papers. Copier jams are caused by factors independent of the recycled content, including humidity levels, copier settings, or user error such as loading the paper incorrectly. All new copy papers should be tested in properly tuned office equipment before making large purchases.
• There is plenty of recycled-content paper available. A 2002 survey identified enough existing capacity to manufacture an additional 1.5 million tons per year of
30 percent postconsumer recycled-content copy paper, enough to supply about one-third of the entire U.S. copy paper market. Rising demand is actually increasing production capacities with two mills recently announcing plans for expansion. Additional demand for recycled-content papers will result in additional supply. As one U.S. manufacturer of recycled-content paper exclaimed, “Buy up, folks! We can make all you need!”
Some private-sector and government purchasers report buying 30 percent postconsumer recycled-content copy papers for the same price as equivalent virgin papers. Minnesota actually reports it is paying 1 percent less for recycled-content copy paper than it pays for virgin. Both South Dakota and Citibank pay the same price for both recycled and virgin. Based on a recent survey of state government purchasers, however, it appears 30 percent postconsumer recycled-content papers currently average about seven percent more than virgin papers.
Any additional costs for buying better paper might be offset by buying lower weight or less bright papers. According to the survey data, 24-pound paper costs 24 percent higher than the 20-pound paper most purchasers are buying. Switching from 24-pound, virgin paper to 20-pound, 30-perent postconsumer recycled-content paper can actually save money.
Similarly, some purchasers are paying premium prices for extremely bright papers. Papers with brightness levels of 84 or higher tend to be about 9 percent higher than papers with brightness levels of 84 or less. Most users can not tell the difference between brightness levels without careful side-by-side comparisons. As a result, many purchasers recognize that unusually high brightness levels are not necessary.
Another way of decreasing paper costs is to decrease paper use. The average U.S. office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of copier paper every year. Any reduction in paper use saves money. As a result, it appears a growing number of governments are implementing or revamping efforts to reduce overall paper consumption. Seattle’s recent decision to buy 100 percent, postconsumer, recycled-content paper was accompanied by a related effort to reduce paper use. Washington recently set a goal of reducing overall paper use 30 percent by 2009 from its 2003 baseline. Portland and Multnomah County, OR, continue tracking their progress towards a 15 percent paper use reduction goal by 2008.
Several other governments are investing at least part of the financial savings from reducing paper use into efforts to buy better paper that further reduces adverse human health and environmental impacts.
While purchasing departments are not frequently tasked with running paper reduction programs, many end up supporting such efforts by tracking paper consumption or improving efforts to educate end users about the advantages of buying office equipment capable of double-sided printing.
What About Us?
Recycled-content and other environmentally preferable copy papers have improved significantly since they were first introduced more than 25 years ago. The general public’s understanding of the importance of buying such papers has also improved and is leading political leaders, end users, and the general public to ask, “What do our paper purchases say about us?” It is the purchasing community that controls the answer.
Editor’s Note: Scot Case is the Director of Procurement Strategies at the Center for a New American Dream where he helps institutional purchasers buy less polluting products from less polluting companies. For additional information, visit: www.govinfo.bz/4590-264 or e-mail Scot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spending Federal Dollars on Paper?
The Resources Conservation and Recovery Act requires federal agencies and others spending federal money to buy recycled content products designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines program has designated more than 60 products, including copy paper. EPA recommends copy papers contain at least 30 percent postconsumer content. For additional information on the EPA’s guidelines, visit: www.govinfo.bz/4590-260.
There are important differences between postconsumer recycled content and total recycled content, and between process chlorine free and elemental chlorine free.
• Postconsumer recycled content refers to the percentage of a paper made from waste paper collected by office recycling and curbside collection programs. Total recycled content includes both postconsumer and pre-consumer content such as paper scraps during the manufacturing process. It is the postconsumer content that is the most relevant figure for paper purchasers.
• Process chlorine free means the paper is manufactured without the use of chlorine or chlorine derivatives. Elemental chlorine free, a less environmentally stringent standard, means no chlorine was used, but chlorine derivatives are permissible. Elemental chlorine bleaching was phased out in the United States in 2001. Although chlorine might still be used by some overseas manufacturers, many environmental groups dismiss elemental chlorine free papers as those made by “the most polluting process legally allowed.” Elemental chlorine free remains preferable to any process that still uses pure chlorine. Enhanced elemental chlorine free further reduces energy and chemical use. Most environmental groups consider process chlorine free to be the most preferable.
Innovative Contract Language
One of the persistent sources of misinformation about the quality of recycled-content copy paper is photocopier technicians who are reluctant to blame any poor performance issues on their copiers and instead blame the paper. Because organizations like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts know that all modern copiers run just as effectively with recycled-content and virgin papers, they prohibit technicians from blaming recycled-content papers for poor copier performance as part of their copier contracts.
The language Massachusetts uses in its contracts is:
Warranties and service contracts [for copiers] MUST not preclude the use of recycled paper and/or the use of remanufactured supplies under this contract. Service contractors MAY NOT fault the use of such recycled paper and/or supplies for equipment failures, so long as these products are on contract with the Commonwealth.
To find a complete list of resources for “Buying Better Copy Paper,” visit: www.govinfo.bz/4590-265.