Environmental FAQs

Isn't the production of recycled paper more damaging to the environment than for normal paper?

No, the production of recycled fibre pulp is, generally speaking, more environmentally benign than the production of 'virgin fibre' pulp that comes directly from trees.

Making recycled pulp produces less air pollution and most types of emissions to water are less. Recycled pulp production usually requires less water and less energy (although virgin pulp production can be energy self sufficient by incinerating wood by-products such as bark).

Contrary to some beliefs, the ink is not bleached out of the fibre but is removed by soaps. So, it's not true that the amount of bleach required is more for recycled pulp. There have been concerns about the toxic heavy metals content of the leftover waste ink and fibre 'sludge' but these are diminishing now that the inks themselves contain less heavy metals. In some cases this sludge is being incinerated for energy or even being made into construction products.

The actual papermaking process will be the same whether the pulp contains virgin or recycled fibre.

Does PVC damage human health?

This is a contentious subject. Environmental groups point to lab tests performed on rodents, which indicated that substances that can be found in PVC, such as dioxins and pthalates, could cause cancer or disrupt their reproductive systems. The fear is that these effects might also apply to humans, although this has not been conclusively proven.

The PVC industry argues that the tests on rodents were unrealistic as they involved exposure levels several thousand times higher than humans would normally face. They also argue that the benefits of such an important and versatile plastic outweigh the theoretical risks. Nevertheless, the industry has voluntarily committed to trying to phase out the use of chemicals where there is reasonable doubt regarding the toxic effects. Some progress has already been made towards this, as with the use of cadmium as a stabiliser being phased out in Europe as of 2001.

Why should I buy recycled paper?

With the growing commitment to responsible forest management, preventing trees being cut down is becoming less of a key incentive for buying recycled paper. However, it is still true that continuing demand for recycled fibre products will relieve pressure on the world's forest resources.

Today the main reason for buying recycled is to make good use of the waste paper that would otherwise choke landfill sites or be sent for incineration.

The waste most likely to end up in landfill is that which has reached the millions of different homes and offices and, because it has become so broadly spread, is difficult to collect. Therefore it can be argued that buying paper that has a high proportion of post-consumer waste is helping the most to ease waste disposal problems.

Can plastic be recycled?

All the most common types of plastic can be recycled, including PVC. The difficulty is in segregating waste so that only specific types of plastic are recycled together. When different types are melted during recycling they don't mix well and the result is a lower quality plastic that is unsuitable for many applications.

Partly due to the problems of collection and segregation, plastic waste currently has a low value, which has made it difficult to cost-effectively recycle in the UK. Bizarrely, this has often meant that plastic waste has been shipped to Europe or even China for reprocessing.

Does Purelypaper trade with Indonesia?

No. Our Paper Merchant Partner used to buy paper from the Indonesian manufacturer, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). However, a campaign by Friends of the Earth highlighted concerns that APP's logging practices were leading to the destruction of natural forest, that they were accepting illegally logged timber and were disregarding the rights of indigenous people. As a result our Merchant Partner ceased trading with APP in 2001. Since then the signs are that APP have genuinely committed to improving their timber supply operations and we welcome their efforts. Nevertheless, they still have much to do and our Merchant Partner will not reconsider them as a supplier until their improvement plan has been fully implemented and there is independent verification that it is showing positive results.

What is old growth forest?

There isn't a set definition (different groups have slightly different interpretations) but there are certain features that are usually present in an old growth forest (OGF). Firstly, it will be older than is normal for a forest managed for the production of timber. It will have a variety of different native tree species and these will be of different ages and sizes. The forest will be in a relatively untouched state and there will be dead and decaying wood either standing or on the ground.

This environment provides the ideal conditions for an abundance of flora and fauna. That's why they're vital to preserve biodiversity and also offer important recreational value, now and for future generations. Environmental groups and forest managers both agree that old growth forest areas should be protected but there is sometimes dispute about exactly which areas qualify. This has been the case in Finland where Greenpeace has protested that logging has taken place in OGF but the forest owners believe that the wood is from outside of agreed conservation areas.

What are ISO14001 and EMAS?

ISO14000 is a series of international, voluntary environmental management standards developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation. ISO14001 specifies the requirements of an environmental management system, which enables a company to identify where it has an impact upon the environment and to prepare and implement a plan to reduce that impact.

The European Union's Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) has a similar purpose to ISO14001 but goes beyond it in a number of ways. Most significantly, EMAS requires an organisation to publish details of their environmental management system and places more emphasis on reducing environmental impact. EMAS also has a logo that can be used on relevant publications, such as environmental reports.

These environmental management systems do not automatically mean that the certified organisation is performing brilliantly. However, they do mean that the organisation is aware of how it impacts on the environment and is committed to the continuous improvement of aspects like energy efficiency, waste reduction and pollution control.

Does papermaking cause rainforest destruction?

According to Friends of the Earth the main causes of rainforest destruction are unsustainable and illegal logging for timber and pulp, the replacement of forests by cash crops or plantations and the expansion of urban areas, roads and other construction projects.

Most of the trees found in rainforests do not provide suitable fibre for paper pulp. So, wood fibre for paper usually originates from managed forests and plantations where new trees are planted to replace those cut down. Papermaking takes offcuts, sawmill residue and thinnings (small trees removed from the forest so that others can grow) that are not suitable for other uses such as construction.

However, there have been cases where rainforest has been cleared to make way for plantations that provide fibre for papermaking. Purelypaper and our Merchant Partner do not condone this practice and, if there is any doubt, our Merchant Partner will seek reassurance that suppliers have not employed such methods.

Are tree plantations bad for the environment?

There are concerns that fast growing tree plantations can be detrimental to the environment. Potential problems are that uniform stands of the same species (particularly if they are not native) provide poor habitats for wildlife, that they degrade soil and water resources and deprive local people of farmland.

However, it's not that straightforward and the merits of a plantation have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. For example, a plantation that had replaced natural forest rich in biodiversity would undoubtedly have a negative impact on the environment. Whereas, a plantation grown on land already degraded by logging or over-intensive farming can actually help to restore biodiversity.

How can I be sure the products I buy are ‘green’?

There are three broad areas for consideration - the source of the raw material, the impact of the manufacturing process and the manufacturer's commitment to continuous improvement.

For paper products the main raw material is usually wood fibre. At the very least this should be from a known source, so information should be available about from where the fibre originates. Forest certification is gaining acceptance and schemes such as the FSC and PEFC offer more reassurance that the forest of origin is well managed.

The manufacturing process inevitably has environmental impacts such as energy consumption, emissions to air and water, chemicals used and the disposal of solid waste. For paper manufacture one of the concerns remains the bleaching method employed, even though hardly any producers still use chlorine in its raw form. Environmental management standards, such as ISO14001 and EMAS, provide reassurance that the manufacturer has identified where it has impacts and is attempting to control them. They also indicate that the manufacturer is committed to continuous improvement.

Part of the responsibility of our Merchant Partner is to evaluate their suppliers and their products to ensure they meet reasonable levels of environmental performance. Purelypaper publishes environmental information on almost all of the paper and board stock items on the website. We will always do our best to answer any specific questions about the materials we sell.

Paper is biodegradable in landfill, so why bother recycling?

Paper is biodegradable but in the conditions of a landfill site it can take fifty years to break down. According to the Paper Federation some five million tonnes of paper and board ends up in landfill sites every year. These sites are rapidly filling up and because of the smell, noise and litter nobody wants a new one to be opened near their home. Recycling that paper waste instead will reduce the need for landfill, create jobs and help to ease pressure on forest resources. Buying recycled grades will help to stimulate the market for recovered fibre and recycling the paper when you're finished will complete the cycle.

What about the environmental impact of transporting waste paper?

It is true that there is an environmental impact in collecting waste paper for recycling, in terms of fuel consumption, emissions and a contribution to traffic congestion. However, it can be argued that a similar impact would be incurred by sending the waste paper to landfill. Ideally, recycled paper production would take place in the UK, using waste that has been recycled domestically, to minimise the required transportation.

Unfortunately there is a shortage of facilities to recycle waste paper (particularly high grade waste that requires de-inking) and so it is sometimes necessary to import recovered fibre from overseas. An increase in the demand for recycled content papers, plus support from Government, would help to increase the economic viability of recycling in the UK.

Which is best, TCF or ECF bleaching?

In the past chlorine gas, or elemental chlorine, was used to bleach papers and so increase their whiteness. This caused environmental problems because chlorine is toxic and the effluent from paper mills was detrimental to aquatic life and water quality.

To overcome the problem the paper industry invested heavily in alternative methods of bleaching. Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) bleaching doesn't use chlorine gas but instead utilises chlorine dioxide, which is much safer. Also developed was Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) bleaching which typically uses hydrogen peroxide or ozone instead of chlorine. One of the measures of the toxic effect bleaching has on effluent is the AOX level. This is expressed as kg per tonne of pulp produced, with the lower the figure the better. ECF bleaching will have an AOX level no higher than 0.5kg/tonne and TCF will have a zero AOX level.

There has been much debate about which method is best for the environment. But many (including the European Commission) now accept that there is no significant difference between the two, assuming the mill is well managed. Of more importance is how well the effluent has been treated and this is one of the factors that our Merchant Partner assesses when looking at the performance of suppliers to their Group.

What is Greenwash?

Greenwash is a term often applied to those making unfounded or misleading claims about their environmental credentials.

For instance, making a claim that a paper was 'environmentally friendly' when it contains ECF pulp and 10% mill broke could be seen as greenwash. That isn't because its environmental credentials are poor but because most papers at least meet the same standard - it would be claiming too much.

When talking about the environmental credentials of products it's important to be specific and not to mislead in any way. Stick to the facts and try to avoid vague terms such as environmentally friendly, eco friendly or green.


Purelypaper, online office paper specialists

Copyright 2004 Purelypaper, online office paper specialists

Purelypaper Ltd provides all information in good faith but may not be held liable for loss or damage arising from action based on these Buying Guides.

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