The Paper Recycling Map: Sappi Charts a Course Forward

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 04/26/2013

Recycling paper is a great way to reduce our environmental footprint. Over the last twenty years there has been a decline in global deforestation, partly due to the increased use of recycled paper and the purchasing of paper products that are certified as coming from responsibly managed forests. However, recycling is not that straightforward, and deforestation still remains a problem.


Recycling paper is a great way to reduce our environmental footprint. Over the last twenty years there has been a decline in global deforestation, partly due to the increased use of recycled paper and the purchasing of paper products that are certified as coming from responsibly managed forests. However, recycling is not that straightforward, and deforestation still remains a problem.

As consumers we have naturally assumed that recycled content was the best attribute for making environmentally friendly products in paper and other industries. Look at the statistics: recycling a ton of newsprint can save about one ton of wood, while recycling one ton of printing or copier paper could save just slightly more than two tons of wood. Other figures show that recycling one ton of newspaper saves about 4,000 kWh (14GJ) of electricity, enough electricity to power a three-bedroom European house for a year, or enough energy to heat and air-condition the average North American home for almost six months.

If things were only that simple. Through the  science of sustainability we have come to look at things holistically, questioning what is in our paper, how are the materials sourced and the impacts of manufac≠turing. There are three categories of paper that can be used as feed stocks for making recycled paper: mill broke; pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste. Mill broke is paper trimmings and other paper scrap from the manufacture of paper, and is recycled internally at a paper mill. Pre-consumer waste is material which left the paper mill but was discarded before it was ready for consumer use. Post-consumer waste is material discarded after consumer use, such as old magazines, newspapers, office paper, etc.

One company trying to be a GPS through this complex territory is Sappi Fine Paper North America, a paper expert which has just released the latest edition of its eQ Journal 005: Rethinking Recycling. It distinguishes between the facts and general misconceptions surrounding recycling and the paper life cycle. In this fifth issue of the Journal, it sheds light on the benefits of recycling while challenging the common assumption that paper produced with a high percentage of recycled fibre is always better for the environment.

In this Journal, a study of Sappi's Somerset Mill revealed that adding ten per cent recycled content increases the product's carbon footprint by 16 per cent, compared to the same product made with 100 per cent virgin fibre. Laura Thompson, Director of Sustainable Development and Technical Marketing, Sappi Fine Paper North America says, "The use of recycled fibre is not a one size fits all solution. We should examine not just what's in our paper, but take into consideration the sourcing of materials, the environmental impact of manufacturing and understand what happens to paper as it moves through the life cycle." So, as conscious consumers we need to stop looking at recycling as an excuse for excessive consumption and remember the two R's: reduce and reuse.