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Frequently Asked Questions

Quality of recycled paper

Q: Anything which is recycled must be inferior quality to the material it is recycled from - so why bother?

A: That just isn't true! It is the fibre content of the paper which is recycled - all the other processes are the same as when it was first made, and so the quality is in the hands of the paper-maker, in just the same way.

Some people find the idea of re-using something slightly distasteful, but in fact everything on this planet has been recycled from something else - just think about where your drinking water has been before it comes to you! In any case the environmental imperative is to recycle every material we can, and to eliminate the use of those which can't - or we will all suffer the consequences. But remember that for recycling to work, the loop has to be complete - when you recycle something you have to buy recycled too.

We sell a wide range of papers suitable for different purposes, and our recycled correspondence papers and envelopes are as high a quality as any conventionally made papers - but you don't have to take our word for it - try them for yourself!

Bleaching and recycled paper

Q: I have been told that recycled paper has to be bleached to make it white - surely this cannot be good for the environment?

A: It wouldn’t be if it was true! Chlorine bleach was (and in some cases still is) used in conventional wood-pulp papermaking to create ‘woodfree’ paper, and it has been recognised for some years that this can be a serious pollutant from paper mills. In recent years newer methods have been developed, principally using hydrogen peroxide, which breaks down harmlessly to oxygen and water. Conventional pulp produced using these newer methods is marked as either Elemental-Chlorine-Free (ECF) or Totally-Chlorine-Free (TCF).

Most recycled fibre has already been through this process during its original manufacture, so that while the pulp may contain traces of bleach from its first life, no more is introduced in recycling. White recycled papers are now mostly created by sophisticated de-inking processes, which separate the ink from the fibre, so that it can be removed completely. Where it is necessary to further whiten the pulp, either peroxide bleaching is used, or ‘brighteners’ are added (as used in washing powders), which are inert.

In some papers the ink is dispersed throughout the fibre as an alternative where whiteness is not as important.

Economics - energy use

Q: I've read that recycled paper required more energy than conventional paper - can you explain this?

A: This is a classic example of how to tell lies with statistics. In fact, the manufacture of recycled paper typically uses only half the energy needed for conventional virgin pulp. The extra energy costed in was the energy cost in transporting collected waste paper for recycling.

This is wrong on two counts:

  • it doesn’t include the energy costs of collecting waste paper for landfill or incineration on the other side of the balance, which are inescapable if you don’t recycle the paper.

  • waste paper collection costs are distorted because there are presently so few mills taking the waste, and those that do are (with the exception of the UK Fibre plant in Kent) well away from the main sources of the waste. This increases the miles it has to travel, and inflates the energy cost.

Waste paper collection may not yet be as efficient as it could and should be - but that is not a good argument against doing it!

Q : Isn’t it more efficient to burn waste paper as a fuel that to recycle it?

A: The economics of this argument are only true while there is more paper being collected than can be sold as recycled products. Waste paper, and particularly ‘woodfree’ paper has a poor calorific value for its bulk, and has to be available virtually for free for burning to be viable. This would not be the case if more people insisted on buying recycled paper products.

In any case, burning the paper quickly releases its carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, when it could have been kept ‘locked-up’ for longer by continuing the recycling circle.

Economics - prices

Q: Why is some recycled paper more expensive that conventional paper?

A: A number of economic factors affect the price of recycled paper in comparison to other papers. In fact, as a rule, the higher the quality of the paper, the greater the saving by buying the recycled version.

The greatest disparity in price is in copier paper, and it is unfortunate that this is what most people notice, and so think it to be the general rule. The big paper companies all see office papers as the biggest market sector, and so concentrate all their efforts to increase their share of it. The resultant competition is fierce, so driving prices down to a level at which profitability disappears.

The market for other types of papers is not so price-sensitive, and the big companies use this to offset the low prices in the office sector. This is where recycled paper scores, because with lower input costs and similar volumes of production to its competitors in this sector, it really does offer a cost saving in the majority of cases.

Printing Inks

Q: I have heard that soya based inks are better for the environment - do you use them?

A: Soya based inks are claimed to be more environmentally friendly on the grounds that they are vegetable-based. This is an unfortunate piece of mis-information, because the truth is that almost all conventional inks used for printing on paper are vegetable based.

The most common base ingredient is linseed oil, and rubber is also used. All types of ink contain roughly similar amounts of petrochemical-derived solvents, and this applies equally to soya-based inks, so they really offer no environmental advantage in their ingredients.

Indeed, far from offering any benefits, we believe they have significant disadvantages:

  • soya oil is mainly produced in the USA, whereas linseed is a European crop. This means the product is unnecessarily transported between continents.
  • linseed is an indigenous raw material, providing employment in Britain and Europe.
  • 50% of the US soya crop is now genetically modified, so raising serious questions about it’s potential to damage the environment.

For these reasons we do not advocate the use of soya-based inks.


Recycled Paper Supplies - the very best in recycled paper and stationery products