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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.

 

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