Mega Q&A;: Can My Printing Be Greener?

Q. "Being a student, I type a lot of essays, and always cringe when I have to print out a long papers (printing back-to-back somehow just isn't acceptable, and the bibliography can't just go at the end, it must be a separate page). Do they make recycled printer paper?  If so, what is the best/which contains the highest post-consumer content?  Thanks a lot." Samantha L. When this landed on my digital desk I thought, "Oh, sh#t, and there's the long neglected Wade, who wanted to know: "Why is it that nearly all copy/printer paper seems to contain no more than 30% recycled material?" And the similarly unloved Sara A, who asked, "Do you guys know anything about environmentally friendly toner for laser printers?" A. Let's push aside a few pixels on said desk and see what we can find. Being Treehuggers we are obviously not keen on the object of our affection (especially the 'old growth' ones), being used for an often throwaway product like paper. Especially when paper can be so easily collected and recycled. And contrary to common myth, it is possible to source high grade recycled paper that is perfectly suitable for use in inkjet and laser printers, as well as copiers. But not all recycled paper is created equal. Specifically seek out Post Consumer recycled (often called PCR or PCW - post consumer waste). Most of this type of paper was once office stationery. Some companies call their paper 'recycled' when all it contains is the trim waste from their own production processes. This is known in the trade as 'mill broke' and they've always re-used it — it reduces costs. So be wary of recycled paper that does not indicate the percentage of post-consumer content.

By at least one reckoning "the greatest benefit of using tree-free paper is reducing the rate of deforestation and maintaining forest habitats. Approximately 9,300 trees are destroyed for every 500 metric tons of paper. According to the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry, annual global consumption of paper is projected to rise to more than 400 million tons by 2010." Fox River Paper (see below) have a useful little chart, showing how 100% post consumer recycled paper, when compared to standard paper, saves 100% of trees, 49.7% the effluent, 49% waste, 36.8% emissions and 26.3% the energy. How could you use anything else? So, of course all the papers listed below are free of new tree pulp.

Personally I use M-real's Evolve, which is 100% PCW, while being rated under the DIN 6738 standard for archival paper. It's made in the UK at a plant that uses Combined Heat and Power (CHP) energy generation from gas and production sludge. Waste water is treated to be cleaner that nearby river water. Evolve productions diverts about180,000 tonnes of waste from British landfill every year. Obviously I'd rather be saving Australian waste, but paper production down here is now a one horse race and there seems no supplier enthusiasm for high content PCW recycled paper here. But that's another story.

I don't think Evolve is available in North America, but there are other alternatives.

You could go with Badger Papers' Envirographic 100 being 100% post-consumer mixed office waste and 100% processed chlorine free. Fox River have their EverGreen 100PC, which has a similar specs for office paper. (They also offer a heavy version, that is made with 50% bamboo fibers and 50% post-consumer fibers.) Domtar have a new range of papers called 'EarthChoice', all of which have "been certified to the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)". But alas only one is 100% post-consumer fiber (and processed chlorine-free). It's labelled Sandpiper. Neenah do a very similar number, simply called Environment 100 PC.

Although maybe a bit too heavy for everyday use in some laser printers, I was particularly taken with Mohawk's Options 100 PC, not only due to it being of FSC certified 100% post consumer fibe content, but because "in 2003, Mohawk became one of the first large-scale production facilities in the United States to use non-polluting, wind-generated electricity" to create such paper. (Canefields is a bagasse paper from India, available in Australia, whose plant is also wind powered, but their mix includes 25% plantation pulp, so doesn't make the grade for this review.) Being a strong avocate of reuse over recycling, it is hard to pass up on Geolopes by New England Cartographic. These are paper sheets created out of outdated U.S. and Canadian government surplus topographic maps, white on one side, with an assortment of random mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, cities, etc on the back. A similar product is available in the UK, from Ordance Survey Maps, but I've lost the link for the moment.

Moving onto the blends, have a peek at Living Tree's Vanguard Recycled Plus. It is 10% hemp/flax combined with 90% post-consumer waste and 100% processed chlorine-free. Arbokem get a big thumbs up for their 'Downtown #3' as it's 50% deinked PCW, blended with organic cereal straw 50%. (though currently their own web won't divulge any info on the paper, just the process). Then there is Hemp Heritage from the Green Field Paper Company — 25% hemp fiber (derived from fabric scraps and agricultural crops) and 75% post consumer recycled paper. The paper is a natural creamy white color. No chlorine bleach is used in the processing of Costa Rica Natural Paper's Banana Paper, available from EcoPaper, is of a unbleached post-consumer paper pulp, with a minimum of 5% banana fibre. ("A percentage of each sale goes towards a scholarship fund to support young leaders from Latin America who study sustainable agricultural development.") They also offer papers blended from coffee and tobacco wastes. All available in small 100 sheet reams for printers and copiers.

Vision make a paper 'Re:Vision', from Kenaf, (a member of the hibiscus family, and related to cotton and okra.) Its annual yield can be 3-5 times the fibre of a pine tree, that might normally take an absolute minimum of 7 years to obtain harvest height. Although it seems a bit heavy for laser printers. Re:Vision is 30% kenaf and 70% PCW recycled content. Also available in 100% Kenaf. The paper is TCF (or Totally Chlorine Free) meaning no dioxins were used to make the paper white.

In the 100% treefree category is the Columbian company, Propal-Productora de Papeles, who have Reprograf, a 100% Bagasse or sugar cane waste product that involves no trees. (unless, of course, forests were cut down to make room for the cane — not that we saying this happened in this instance, but it's just a reminder to have eyes in the back of your head, when taking environmental claims at face value). Crane & Co can provide you with their Crest Recycle 100% cotton paper, containing 30% post-consumer cloth. None of the fibre has been de-inked and cotton content is from "recovered and recycled cotton fibers from the garment and cotton seed industries that would otherwise end up in the landfill". Or go one further with Blue Jean Bond Esleeck from. A 100% cotton paper but pulped with, as the name suggests, recycled denim rags. Green Field have a fellow traveller in their Recycled Denim Paper.

For more background information on the entire paper and foresty issue, a trip to either Conservatree.org or RethinkPaper.org is well worth the journey.

Wade also asked "Is there an online retailer that specializes in the greenest office supplies?" Well, Wade, if you were in the UK you could mouse over to The Green Stationery Company, who offer the Costa Rican papers noted above and also have the delightful Elli Poo paper. Here we are blessed with 25% Sri Lankan elephant dung, mixed with the remainder of PCW. Income from this paper helps the locals care for their heffalumps. British grown hemp makes up 75% of another offering, with the balance coming from straw. In the US, a company also supplying a range of green office goods is Blue Dolphin, who have stock such as Rolland Inspiration EcoFibre and New Life DP. In Australia, look to SCRAP, who have their finger on the paper pulse.

Who said choice is not alive and well!

And finally to Sara's question on whether there was an eco-friendly toner or not. To be honest I expected to come up negative on that one. But, I was wrong, it seems. For Konica Minolta have this toner called Simitri. They reckon that compared "to the conventional pulverized toners, manufacturing of Simitri toner requires less energy, and contributes to environmental preservation, reducing by 40%, the generation of CO2, NOx or SOx that cause greenhouse gases, and acid rain." But it looks like it's only available in their own branded copiers and printers. Drawing on my own experiences yet again, I use a Kyocera EcoSys laser printer. It does not use a disposable toner cartridge system, instead you basically top up the toner itself. This not only reduces the vast quantity of printers cartridges headed for landfill, but offers an industry best 'lowest cost of ownership.' Of course, if you don't have an EcoSys the using remanufactured toner cartridges is the next best option. These are available everywhere and too numerous to mention. Oh, nearly forgot though, there is another alternative. It's DIY toner refill kits. You burn a hole in a used cartridge, pour in fresh toner from a plastic bottle and fit a cap on the hole. Tried this at work and it was great for a month or three, but then we started getting black streaks everywhere. Wasn't sure whether to blame the toner or the ancient printer?

Whew! Now I know why I saving this for a rainy day. :-)

And we hope this also helps a few of readers who were looking at our previous foray into the subject.

NB. for the purpose of this post I tried to stick to papers, free of new tree pulp, that were suitable for daily use in laser printers and photocopiers. Outside of this criteria there is a wider range of paper, such as those made from lettuce, algae, onion, garlic and numerous other sources. The word 'paper' is derived from Papyrus, a reed found on the banks of the Nile. For centuries we made paper from non tree origins. It was only in about the 1930's that we were seriously able to use the cellulose fibre from trees, through extensive use of new synthetic chemicals to loosen the lignin content.