Still green, but no longer grey

19 September 2007
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20 September 2007

Gone are the days when recycled paper was fit only for egg cartons and cereal packaging. Antony Barton - examines its development as a major business material

Buyers who source large quantities of pristine white paper need no longer feel a pang of "green" guilt - as recycled stock has ceased to be the greyer, grainier, low-quality alternative.

And research among paper buyers in the UK shows 67 per cent have targets or plans to increase the proportion of paper products using recycled content in the future.

Jonathan Tame, head of the recycled paper advocacy team at the Waste & Resources Action Programme, which conducted the research, says the rise is largely due to stakeholder demand for organizations to raise environmental standards.

He adds that paper price increases, caused by rising raw material costs and tough trading conditions, are making buyers re-evaluate their purchases. The survey revealed that recent price rises had led 16 per cent of organisations to use more recycled paper.

"Today's recycled papers are equal in quality and on-press performance to virgin stocks and, where competitively priced, there is no reason not to seriously consider them," says Tame. "As well as the business benefits, there is also the environmental impact reducing landfill."

Tim Bowler, director of the National Association of Paper Merchants (NAPM), says improved technology has made recycled paper more reliable for office machines. He says the processes used in paper mills to sort different qualities of paper, and to remove ink from recovered fibres, have improved dramatically. "Not long ago, recovered fibre would nearly always end up as low-grade egg cartons and cereal packaging, because it wasn't so well sorted," he adds.

But Bowler says the structure and furnish of recycled paper have their limitations in printing presses, and doubts that this will change.

Referring to the use of 50 per cent recycled reels in printers that make up to 20,000 impressions an hour, he says: "When you think how fast printing machines print these days, you need tensile strength and consistency in the sheet. The more recycled fibre you use, the harder it is to get those qualities."

Mary Warren, environmental product manager at paper manufacturer Robert Horne Group - one of NAPM's members - disagrees. "Within our Revive paper portfolio there are 50 per cent, 75 per cent and 100 per cent recycled-content products that are capable of running at high speeds for demanding print jobs. A number of our customers do this regularly," she says.

Any minor limitations are, perhaps, offset by expansion in products containing recycled paper. Nigel Crunden, marketing manager for business products supplier Office Depot, says there is now more choice of envelopes, notepads, packaging and diaries. "Recovered material is being used in more areas all the time, owing to demand from customers."

But suppliers' optimism could be dashed by the ever "greener" policies being adopted by buyers. Richard Parsons, head of strategic procurement at Camden Council in London, says that he buys 100 per cent recycled paper for all photocopying and printed material. While he has no complaints about price or quality, he says the aim is to use less paper of any kind.

"We will particularly look at areas where we don't use recycled paper, such as for promotional leaflets, and boost our use of promotions via the internet rather than by ink on paper."

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