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Paper Grades--Refocusing on Recycled

April 1998
Remember the novelty of flipping over an earthy-colored greeting card to locate on its back the statement, "Made from recycled materials"? Not only did the mainstream introduction of paper recycling in the consumer marketplace signal an effort to reduce waste and keep reusable material out of landfills, it became trendy—the "hot" thing to do.

These days, most paper mills offer a plethora of grades containing up to 100-percent postconsumer content. Yet, with recycled no longer the burning issue of the day, has the popularity of such grades lost its fire?

When recycled grades were first developed as a viable alternative to virgin paper, environmentalists cheered, but printers were less enthusiastic. "About eight or nine years ago, there were only a handful of mills recycling paper, and you had to go out of your way to find it," recalls Robert Sternau, director of marketing and sales for Wheal-Grace, an eco-friendly commercial printer located in Bellville, NJ.

Upon locating it, printers often found that the paper lent itself to picking, linting, dusting and jamming problems.

Refined manufacturing methods have since eliminated such headaches. Today, the biggest mills in the world produce grades that perform equally with their virgin counterparts.

"There are some printers who claim that recycled grades are more difficult to run. That's not the case," attests Trent Cunningham, president of Aurora, CO-based Frederic Printing, which has long been a leader in environmentally conscious printing. "The mills have done a great job of fine-tuning their processes to make a quality No. 1 sheet of recycled grade."

Still, higher prices often discouraged those specifying paper—despite their concern for the environment—from using these stocks.

"People would be receptive [of using recycled paper] until you said there was a premium on it," relates Sternau.

Initially, demand for recycled was not high enough to cause paper companies to invest in the plants and the processes necessary to make it. As a result, the limited supply caused prices to remain high, discouraging demand.

Re-stimulating Demand
Looking to stimulate demand and create a dent in the roughly 40 percent of paper trash that comprises the nation's solid waste, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12873. The order decreed that all federal agencies should use printing and writing papers with at least 20-percent recycled fiber content by the end of 1994, and at least 30-percent recycled fiber by 1999.

By 1996, most mills began increasing the percentages of post-consumer waste in their various grades, and several new deinking mills were opened. Since that time, however, some paper companies have reported that previously opened deinking facilities have shut down, and those remaining open are not operating at full capacity.

Some experts attribute this to bad timing in the world paper climate. Reportedly, the mill openings coincided with a period during which cost for the wastepaper used to make deinked pulp was at an all-time high. At the same time, multinational companies began importing cheaper virgin pulp from mills in South America. Without a consistent market for recycled papers, some mills have kept struggling.

So, is there any hope for the returned popularity of recycled grades in what has been termed our "throwaway society"?

You bet. Just ask Sternau. Wheal-Grace has promoted eco-friendly printing processes for years, and has found that customers are very interested in recycled grades. "It used to be that you paid a premium for recycled paper," states Sternau. "But in the last year, we found that most mills and merchants have dropped the prices, so it's a level playing field."

Cunningham agrees. "It's leveled off," he states. "With all the new equipment at the mills, they're finding advantages to making recycled papers."

Re-educating Consumers
Since recycled grades are comparable in price to virgin papers, generating interest in recycled may just be a matter of reminding buyers of its availability and benefits.

"In general it's a matter of focusing buyers on [recycled papers], educating them and getting them to use the highest amount of postconsumer waste content," comments Sternau.

Wheal-Grace has developed an innovative way of reminding its clients of the effects of making environmentally sound paper and printing decisions—through its trademarked Green Print program.

As part of the program, Wheal-Grace consults with customers to help them choose the most appropriate paper and processes for the job. Then, using a proprietary software program, Wheal-Grace is able to calculate the environmental benefits of selecting such elements. Printed pieces carry the Green Print logo, as well as an environmental impact statement that details the project's savings of trees, air, water, landfill space and energy.

"We've had a lot of success with this program," notes Emil R. Salvini, president of Wheal-Grace. "Dozens of major companies, including Citibank, Con Edison and Novartis Pharmaceuticals, have chosen to go the eco-friendly Green Print way."

Interest has been so great that Wheal-Grace is now preparing to launch the Green Print licensing program to printers across the country, enabling them to share environmentally friendly options and results with print buyers.

"Over the past several years since we introduced the Green Print program, we have seen a steady interest in recycled paper," assesses Sternau.

"The burning issue of the day doesn't stay with us for decades," he muses. "Recycling is not quite a hot topic because it's been around so long."

However, with federal agencies upping their recycled fiber content and corporate America embracing environmentally friendly images, the popularity of recycled paper grades may just be warming up. Sternau also points out another demographic with a determined interest in recycling—the consumers and print buyers of tomorrow. Wheal-Grace works with elementary school students, introducing them to recycled paper.

"There is tremendous interest among young people in anything environmental," Sternau attests.

—Carolyn R. Bak

Completely Tree-Free

Looking to save a tree and produce a high-quality, distinguished annual report? Look no further. Unicorp Paper Industries, of Placentia, CA, has introduced Impressions Gloss, reportedly the world's first tree-free coated paper.

The Impressions Gloss line of premium coated papers is manufactured using high-quality bamboo pulp. The tropical grass fiber, grown in northern Thailand, has no bark, making it easier to process than trees. Additionally, bamboo is the second-fastest growing plant, with the ability to reach maturity within four years, and the capability to reach heights in excess of 100 feet.

The manner in which bamboo is cut benefits the ecosystem and reduces reforestation costs. Each plant produces about five new shoots per year—which are ready to cut in approximately four years. By cutting only the oldest shoots of each plant, the rest remains to flourish and regenerate—bamboo can survive and produce shoots for as long as 100 years.

The result? Fine-quality coated paper, perfect for a variety of uses including annual reports, brochures, catalogs, calendars, posters and more. Impressions Gloss is said to be a premium No. 1 coated sheet with extremely high brightness, excellent opacity and high bulk—and absolutely no tree fiber.


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