Environmental and/or Public Health Impacts

Benefits of Purchasing Recycled-Content Paper and Envelopes

Related Links


Paper is one of the most utilized products in the world for business as well as individual activities. Contrary to the optimistic prediction of years ago that improvements in electronic technologies would eventually render a "paperless" society, the use of paper products has been ever increasing. As a result, it is not surprising that the impact of manufacturing, processing and using such an enormous quantity of wood pulp has a huge impact on the environment and public health of the planet.

According to the third party certification organization, Green Seal, the pulp & paper industry ranks first in use of industrial process water, third in toxic chemical releases and fourth in emissions of air pollutants known to impair respiratory health. Some of the consequences associated with these operations include deforestation of large wooded areas, including old growth endangered forests and rainforests; an acceleration of climate change conditions; environmental pollution of air and water, and an increase in waste materials.

Recognizing this fact, many governments and institutions are now using post-consumer recycled content papers for office, janitorial, and foodservice operations, and when possible, replace virgin wood paper products with tree-free alternatives such as kenaf or bamboo. Unbleached paper products and items bleached without the use of chlorine or chlorine derivatives are also preferable.

Since 1994, Massachusetts has only purchased office paper and envelopes with a minimum post-consumer recycled content of 30% (unless a particular paper type is only available with a lesser percentage) and other janitorial and foodservice papers that meet federal recycled content standards. In addition, 50% and 100% post-consumer content are available on the state contract as well as various tree-free options. The quality, performance and availability of the products are equal to their virgin counterparts. Although recycled content paper can be slightly more expensive than the virgin paper at the time of purchase (often depending on the volume of the purchase), experience indicates that recycled paper is eventually less expensive when considering long term impacts and life cycle cost of the product.

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Environmental and/or Public Health Impacts

The manufacturing process utilized by the pulp and paper industry promotes a significant impact to the environment and public health. From the practices employed in obtaining virgin pulp to the chemicals used in production and finally, the output of solid and hazardous waste, should be taken into consideration when purchasing any type of paper product. Some of these impacts include:

Deforestation and Resource Deprivation

Trees may be renewable, but old-growth forest plant and animal habitats and ecosystems are often not renewable because of the complex ecological balance which was built over thousands, even millions, of years. The practice of continuous large-scale logging accelerates deforestation and leads to global warming, and eventually affects forest resources for future generations.

According to Dolphin Blue, forest cover has decreased to 4-6% in the last 200 years. Commercial logging of tropical forest doubled since 1960, and wood consumption has tripled during the 20 th century, causing deforestation at staggering rates. For example, an area the size of Connecticut is being clear-cut in the North American Boreal Forest each day. According to the estimate of Dolphin Blue, one ton (40 cartons) of uncoated virgin printing and office paper requires 24 trees; newsprint production requires 12 trees. [In the U.S., about 30% of the timber harvested is used to make paper products (Green Seal)].

Toxic Pollution and Health Implications

Many toxic chemicals are used in paper making, especially toxic solvents and chlorine compounds used to bleach and delignify pulp. Additional toxins are used as biocides to prevent bacterial growth in the pulp and finished paper products. According to Green Seal, the paper manufacturing industry releases 1.5 trillion gallons of wastewater contaminated with organochlorine compounds each year. The chlorine and/or chlorine derivatives that are used for bleaching create organochlorines as by-products, which are considered dioxins, or substances that can cause cancer and create other reproductive disorders, as well as impacts to developmental and the immune system. Organochlorines, persist in the environment indefinitely, traveling long distances and accumulating up through the food chain.

Air Emissions

Pulp and paper mills are large sources of standard air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and particulates, volatile organic compounds, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. These contribute to ozone warnings, acid rain, climate change and respiratory problems and have a detrimental effect on plant and aquatic life.

Water and Energy Consumption

Paper making uses a great deal of water, which can diminish groundwater supplies and it is very energy intensive. The process often draws large amounts of electricity from public utilities, sometimes requiring mills to build their own power plants. In fact, making one ton of paper by burning fossil fuels uses more than 680 gallons of oil and 10,601 kilowatt hours of electricity as well as releases greenhouse gases and other hazardous pollutants into the air. In addition, the process represents various hidden damages due to fuel extraction at the source (oil drilling, oil spills, coal mining, pipelines, transmission lines, etc.)

Waste Generation

According to EPA's 2005 report, paper and paperboard products represent 34%, or the largest component of all Municipal Solid Waste. Although the recycling rate of paper has increased in recent years, an estimated 50% of waste paper still ends up in the waste stream annually, contributing to expanded landfills, increased incineration and air, water, and soil contamination.

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Benefits of Purchasing Recycled-Content Paper and Envelopes

Recycled office and janitorial paper products can be manufactured to the same quality and performance standards as paper from virgin pulp. This has not always been true. In the earlier stages of development, recycled fiber was simply substituted for virgin fiber without re-engineering the manufacturing processes and some of the papers manufactured under these conditions did not perform as well as the virgin paper. Since then, the market has evolved and most manufacturers are now producing many varieties of high-quality, cost-competitive recycled paper.

In fact, according to studies done by the USEPA, using recycled fiber is actually cheaper than harvesting and processing virgin fiber and can save 22-64% of energy costs over virgin paper production. Considering that there is a substantial amount of paper still left in the waste stream, the potential for much greater savings remains, especially in high-grade printing and writing papers that may contain only 10% post-consumer waste. Some other benefits to purchasing recycled content paper products include the following (links to the information sources referenced below are provided under the "Related Links" bullet at the end of this page):

  • Primary resources conservation - 1 ton of 30% post-consumer content copier paper (or tree-free materials such as kenaf) saves 7.2 trees, and 12 trees for 50% (Source: Dolphin Blue)
  • Water and energy conservation (in the production system) - Using 1 ton of 100% recycled paper saves 4,100 kwh of energy and 7,000 gallons of water (Source: Conservatree)
  • Air/ water/ soil pollution prevention - Choosing paper products that are manufactured without any chlorine compounds in their current production cycle, such as Process Chlorine Free (PCF) and Totally Chlorine Free (TCF), are preferred over Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) which substitutes chlorine derivatives (primarily chlorine dioxide) in the bleaching process. Also, using 1 ton of 100% recycled paper keeps more than 60 pounds of pollution out of the air (Source: Conservatree)
  • Waste prevention - Reducing the volume of paper going into the waste stream also reduces air pollution from incineration and saves landfill space. 1 ton of recycled paper saves 3 cubic yards of land fill space (Source: Green Seal)
  • Global warming prevention - Reducing waste paper products going into combustors serves to limit the emission of greenhouse gases and work toward mitigating climate change conditions.(Source: USEPA)

In Fiscal Year 2006, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased an estimated $21,137,700.07 worth of recycled content paper products, including the paper types mentioned above as well as various printed materials and lottery tickets (made with a minimum of 10% post-consumer content). Using the environmental benefits calculator (EnviroCalc) developed by the Massachusetts EPP Program, the following benefits were recorded for FY2006:





Weight of Material Recycled4,325 tonsAnnual solid waste generation of 2,032 households
Wood saved54,337 trees544acres of wood plantation
Landfill space savings13,752 cubic yards688 loaded garbage trucks
Energy savings64,253 million BTUEnergy content of 11,078 barrels of oil
Carbon dioxide emissions15,746 tonsAnnual tailpipe emissions of 3,092 cars

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Related Links

  1. EPA Municipal Solid Waste - Paper and Paper Products:;;
  2. New American Dream:
  3. 3. Conservatree.Org:
  4. 4. Dolphin Blue:
  5. 5. Green Seal, Choose Green Report:

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