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Often taken for granted, the paper supplies (besides copy paper) that keep workplaces on task, do exact an environmental toll. Fortunately, they are starting to go green, but with so many types to choose from (including recycled content, certified, and chlorine-free paper), the decision about what kind to buy can be daunting,

What to look for when buying eco-friendly office paper products

The best strategy to lessen the environmental impacts of the paper industry is to reduce your office’s paper use. This can be done in various ways, such as reusing envelopes and file folders or using scrap paper for notes, memos, and drafts. But since paper is probably here to stay in the business world, here’s a quick-and-dirty list of green paper-product attributes, in order of eco-importance, to help you choose the best supplies for your office:

1. Post-consumer recycled content. Also called post-consumer waste (PCW), this lets you know that a percentage of the paper has been used by consumers and recycled. Go for the highest percentage you can (shoot for 100 percent) and hold 30 percent as a minimum. Post-consumer recycled content differs from recycled content, which typically means that the paper manufacturer has reprocessed mill scraps in the paper production. This common industry practice does not make a significant dent in resource use reduction or pollution prevention.

2. Certified. Still not used much in office paper products besides copy paper, certifications should become more commonplace as customers demand proof of a product’s greenness. Using a set of standards, independent third-party certification bodies help to ensure that paper products (and lots of other consumer goods) are produced in a sustainable manner. There are several organizations certifying forests and paper products, but according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), only one is preferred by green experts worldwide—the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). After some controversy, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program is gaining ground. Green Seal is another independent nonprofit organization that uses science-based certification standards on a variety of consumer products, such as paint, paper, windows, cleaners, etc. EcoLogo is one of the oldest certification programs in North America with certified products in over 120 categories, including pulp and paper products.

3. Chlorine-free. Chlorine-free paper products are produced without chlorine or chlorine compounds to bleach them white; preferable because no dioxins or other organochlorides are released into waterways. Like recycled paper, chlorine-free paper was once difficult to find, though that’s become increasingly less so. The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) is an independent nonprofit accreditation organization that serves to highlight products with little or no chlorine. The ideal paper choices are those marked "PCF" (processed chlorine-free).

Find it! Eco-friendly office paper products

Since copy paper is on hand in most every office setting, it’s paving the way for green on-the-job paper products. Notepads, envelopes, sticky notes, planners, etc. are following suit, but the more your office and others buy, the more you’ll spark market demand.

Buying environmentally preferable office paper products helps you go green because…

  • By buying recycled paper you’re supporting a product that requires about 60 percent of the energy used to make paper from virgin wood pulp.[1]
  • Purchasing paper with post-consumer recycled content helps save trees and reduces the impacts from virgin pulp paper manufacture.
  • Removing chlorine and chlorine derivatives from the paper-making process helps eliminate such toxic pollutants as dioxins and furans from the environment.
  • The process of using alternative methods of bleaching requires less fresh water.
  • Independent certification labels help remove the guesswork as to whether a product is truly “green.”
  • Wood products certification is meant to ensure that the pulp used came from forests that were managed in a sustainable manner.

As a nation, the US went through more than 85 million tons of paper and paper products in 2006.[2] Corporate America accounts for the lion's share of this number with the average office worker using 10,000 sheets of copy paper annually.[3]

Though the pulp and paper industry has made great strides over the past 20 years, there are still significant ecological effects in the process of making paper products, especially those products made from virgin trees. In addition to tree loss, the virgin timber-based pulp and paper industry is the third greatest industrial emitter of global warming pollution, with carbon dioxide emissions projected to double by 2020.[4] Given the reams and reams of paper consumed by the office-supply industry, Forest Ethics asserts that deforestation (which each year causes 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions) is that industry’s number one eco-impact.[5] At the end of its life, paper makes up more than a third of America's municipal solid waste and decomposing paper in landfills is a major source of landfill methane emissions.[6]

Benefits of eco-paper

Buying green paper with recycled content, especially post-consumer recycled content, ensures a market for a product that uses 60 percent less energy to produce than regular paper, reduces water pollution by 35 percent, air pollution by 74 percent, and helps preserve forests.[7] According to figures released by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1 ton of recycled paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, two barrels of oil, and 4,100 kilowatt hours of electricity.[1]

Making the decision to purchase chlorine-free paper for the workplace reduces the demand for conventional paper, which is often bleached with chlorine or chlorine compounds. This process creates hundreds of chemicals that are released into the environment, including dioxin, a known carcinogen.

The demand for environmentally responsible products has helped to boost independent, third-party certification, especially forest certification, as a credible and effective tool to communicate a company’s environmental responsibility. Recently, some big name companies, like Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma, and the parent company of Victoria's Secret, Limited Brands, have hopped on the certification bandwagon, and started using FSC-certified paper in their catalogs and other printed communications.

Controversies

One of the controversies to emerge regarding forest certification is the notion of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) vs. SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), the two primary standards for forest certification. SFI emerged from the American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA), the forest industry trade association. FSC, on the other hand, evolved as an international nonprofit organization built from meetings with timber traders and environmental and human rights organizations.

Due to SFI’s ties to the forest industry, critics often charged SFI as lacking independence, accepting the practices of logging old-growth and endangered forests, replacing natural forests with tree plantations, and allowing the excessive use of chemicals. In an effort to refute this long-time and widespread criticism, in January 2007, the SFI program broke away from the AFPA and became a fully independent nonprofit organization, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc. The new SFI boasts an independent board of directors, which includes members of environmental and conservation groups.

Glossary

  • post-consumer waste (PCW): A term referring to components of a product made from previously used products that was recycled. The higher the percentage, the better.
  • processed chlorine-free (PCF): A term referring to the fact that chlorine bleach was not used at this stage of the manufacturing of the product. However, if the product contains recycled content, that content may have been bleached in its original production, hence the new product cannot be labeled as entirely chlorine-free.

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