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Reassessing Paper and the Environment

To say that recycled = good and virgin fibre = bad is far too simplistic. Let’s take a fresh look at the issues concerning paper and the environment.

Trees
Trees for paper use are cultivated as a crop. The assumption that using recycled paper saves trees is incorrect. Much pulp comes from small branches, making the most of a tree that is cut down for other uses.

Energy
Like any other major industrial process, paper making uses a lot of energy. Producing recycled paper uses about half the energy required of virgin paper. Either way, some pollutants will be released into the atmosphere, although, all pulp and paper mills have made huge strides in reducing emissions over the last few years.

Bleaching
Bleach is added to paper pulp principally to make it whiter and stronger ? as the market demands. Chlorine and its derivatives were once widely used as bleaching agents, but have been largely replaced by liquid oxygen and other substances, hence the terms TCF (totally chlorine free) and ECF (elemental chlorine free). Very few recycled papers are re-bleached.

Water
Up to 300 000 litres of water are required to make a ton of paper? Recycled paper uses less than a third of this. An increasing number of mills now operate a closed loop system which re-uses and saves enormous amounts of water.

De-inking
As with all paper making effluents, the residue from de-inking for recycling is closely controlled and can increasingly be dried and spread on agricultural land when mixed with fertilizers.

Recycling Sources
Pre-consumer waste is the term generally used for mill broke or envelope factory offcuts. Post-consumer waste is waste retrieved from offices and homes via collection systems, thus avoiding the need for landfill or incineration. The latest generation of post-consumer recycled papers are as good as most virgin fibre sheets.

Alternative fibres
There is a growing interest in tree-free pulps as an alternative fibre source for paper. Straw, seaweed, hemp, cotton and linen are all used, mixed with wood fibre to greater or lesser degree. It is probably only the set up costs of commercial pulp production in these areas that has prevented further development?

Here are some tips you may not already know:

  • Some papers made from recycled fibre may exhibit slightly different characteristics to similar grades made from virgin fibre e.g. variations in shade, opacity and brightness may occur. For demanding jobs on recycled papers, a machine proof should be run.
  • It is possible that more debris may be evident, requiring a greater number of wash-ups within a production run.
  • For web offset work on plain and lick coated recycled material, spot colours require lower tack values and lower production speeds (e.g. 20/25,000iph).
  • Recycled paper may not be as strong as other paper and tends to be more absorbent, absorbing more ink. Dot gain may also increase by 2-3%.

Press speeds may need to be reduced on some recycled papers for sheet fed work.