Adventures in Choosing Eco-Friendly Printer Paper

Series of doors. All gray except one red one.

Confession: This information is coming fresh off my own learning spree. See, I was just went through my own process of choosing eco-friendly printer paper to use in my personal and business life. While I thought this was a simple question that would have a simple answer. I found that was not the case.  So I am going to share what I’ve figured out and hope that you have an easier time of your purchase than I did!  

A confused-looking business man faces a black wall with white arrows going in many directions with a red question mark above his head.

Who knew there were so many things to consider when you went to purchase some eco-friendly printer paper?

Labels to know When Choosing Eco-Friendly Printer Paper

In my search for eco-friendly paper, I discovered four main types of paper: Standard Paper, FSC-Certified Paper, Recycled Paper, and TreeFree Paper. Before discussing my decision-making process, let’s make sure we understand each of these categories.

Standard paper

Standard paper gets a bad rap because it’s missing the other recognizable signs of being sustainable. Some standard paper manufacturers may still pay attention to their sources and choose less-toxic ways of producing their paper.  These efforts should be considered; contact manufacturers to learn more about their sources and processes before ruling them out.

Recycled Paper

While the focus of SFI, FSC, and PEFC are all about the chain of custody, they are focused on the use of virgin wood. Recycled paper is focused on reducing waste.  

Recycled paper can be made from pre-consumer waste, which is scraps of wood that would otherwise go to waste.  It can also be made from post-consumer waste, like printer paper, tissue paper, etc. that was used by the consumer and is now being converted into a new product.

Generally, it seems that post-consumer recycled paper is preferred.

Recycled paper can also vary on the percentage of recycled material used. The higher percentage, the better! 

FSC-Certified Paper

The certification from the Forestry Stewardship council certifies paper based on a companies legal & social compliance, ecological conservation, and forest management & renewal (What is the best, n.d.).

This certification is also concerned with the Chain of Custody (CoC) of the sources. They may deem a product that is made from 100% FSC certified wood and 100% post consumer paper waste or controlled wood.  Because of the mix, the product would be labeled as 100% Mixed FSC which is certainly a little confusing.

SFI- Certified Paper

The Sustainable Forest Initiative aims to balance sustainable forestry and industry standards. 

It is less strict about what it finds acceptable.  For instance, it allows the use of GMOs.  It encourages the use of needed pesticides. Perhaps the most alarming difference to me is that SFI keeps their audit results private while FCS’s audits are public.

PEFC- Certified Paper

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) began as a way to address gaps in the FSC process.  At that time, FSC focused on trees in tropical climates, but not those in temperate climates.  Further, FSC made it challenging for smallholder producers.

 

FCS and PEFC are rather similar in their approach to certification with stringent rules.  PEFC is used more often in European countries, rather than the US.

 

Tree Free Paper

There are several alternatives that have been produced as a substitute for trees in the making of paper, including Kenaf and hemp. 

Kenaf is ready to be harvested in five months and grows 12-18 feet.  It yields up to five times more than the trees popularly used in the production of paper. Further, it grows so close together that it crowds out weeds, which means that herbicides aren’t needed. Insecticides arent’t needed either. It takes less energy to produce the pulp from this option, as well.

Hemp may be a relatively sustainable option in some places, but the US has a ban on the crop. Therefore, anyone wanting to use it to make paper in the US has to important it from Canada or Europe. Importing the material adds shipping and packaging to the carbon footprint. 

Another option is Ag-residue, which refers to the leftovers and byproducts of agricultural crops used for other purposes. This is a great way to make use of material that would otherwise be wasted.

Unfortunately these options remain costly and are not yet mainstream.

Additional Factors for Choosing Eco-Friendly Printer Paper

If your head isn’t already spinning, let me add a few more things to consider when you’re weighing your options for an eco-friendly paper product.

Local Options

As in all material, the distance that the material for production and the finished products travel are a part of the overall carbon impact.  It’s not always easy to trace the journey of a product before it’s manufactured, but it’s not too difficult to make a conscious effort to buy local when you have the option to do so.  Not everyone lives near a paper mill and can purchase local paper. But when possible, choose the closer option! 

Other Considerations

Thinner paper uses less material, and therefore is a better option.  Additionally, paper that use chlorine-free processes are better for the environment. Chlorine-free processes usually result in a more-yellowed, less-pristine white for your paper.  If your business doesn’t require white paper, this is something you can consider choosing! 

Your Choice

That was a lot of information.  My conclusion is that there isn’t a perfect solution that works for everyone when it comes to choosing eco-friendly printer paper.  For me, I am seeking out a 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper that is from a US-based store. Your decision may not look the same, and that’s okay. What is important is that you are taking the time to think through the carbon impact of your options and select the one that is best for your circumstances.

And whatever you choose, be sure to recycle your paper! Unless it’s shredded. For shredded paper, you’ll have to check in with local recycling centers to see if anyone accepts it.

References: 

“FCS Certification, SFI Certification, and Recycled Content: What to Look for in a Packaging Partner.” (Jan 15, 2019). EcoEnclose. Retrieved from https://www.ecoenclose.com/blog/fsc-certification-sfi-certification-and-recycled-content-what-to-look-for-in-a-packaging-partner/.

“What is the Best Environmentally Friendly Copy Paper.” (n.d.) Kelly Connect. Retrieved from https://kelleyconnect.com/what-is-the-best-environmentally-friendly-copy-paper/.

“Words on Paper: Tree-Free or Recycled?” (May 4, 2005). E: The Environmental Magazine. Retrieved from https://emagazine.com/words-on-paper-tree-free-or-recycled/.

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