Fiber: Recycled vs. Virgin

There is an ongoing debate about the usage of recycled fibers as opposed to virgin fibers. More than one-third of the fibers used by the paper industry come from recycled fiber. Compared to other industries, the amount of Post Consumer Waste used in the paper production process is significant.

The content of recycled material is even greater when you take into account pre-consumer waste (paper waste that never reached consumers) and the usage of mill broke. Broke is the waste generated in the process of making paper. It is re-introduced in the process of making pulp, decreasing the need for virgin fibers. Even though recycled paper requires water and energy, the level of pollution created in the process uses one-third less water and two-thirds less air when compared to virgin fiber (EPA).

Pre-Consumer Waste, recycled broke, and Post Consumer Waste (PCW) are all used in the process of making recycled paper.

The opposite line of thought is that using virgin fibers from responsibly managed forests promotes reforestation which is a critical factor in fighting greenhouse gas effects. Major forest certification programs like FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiatives) are leading forces behind responsible and environmentally managed forests.

So what does all of this mean? Using paper is good and using recycled (or paper from managed forests) is better. When printing anything, try to use paper that has some content of PCW (look for at least 10% and the higher the better!) or is FSC or SFI certified.

And whichever paper you choose to use, always remember to recycle it at the end of the lifecycle. Recycling paper uses less energy and produces much less waste than just tossing it in your trash can. In fact, each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water.

This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution1.

The impacts are clear and the first step begins with you!

 Sources:
1 http://www.pacebutler.com/blog/recycling-facts/

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