Why you should buy recycled paper
Many people are aware that products made from recycled materials
are environmentally beneficial, but are not really sure of why. This
makes it easier for those with a vested interest in the maintaining
the natural-resource-to-landfill cycle to spread selective half-truths
to support what they do.
Here we try to set the record straight.
Recycling is natural
In nature, waste is always recycled - only mankind creates systems
where waste is a problem. In fact, it is impossible to sustain any
system in which waste is not effectively recycled. 200 years ago almost
all paper was a recycled product - made from cotton and linen rags,
and the use of trees as the basic raw material only dates from about
Forests and the greenhouse effect
All animals produce carbon dioxide as a by-product of using energy
to live. The plant kingdom, and especially trees, turn that carbon
dioxide back into oxygen for the air, and carbon, which with the hydrogen
element from water they make into cellulose - their structure.
Unfortunately mankind has found other ways to liberate enormous amounts
of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - from fossil fuels, locked-up
below the earths surface - while at the same time destroying
vast continents of the forests needed to deal with all that gas. The
result is the greenhouse effect, the heating of the atmosphere
which threatens the future ability of the earth to sustain life.
Rather than being a quick crop, trees should be left to grow to maturity,
and thinned progressively, letting others grow into their place, so
retaining their captured carbon for the longest possible time. Being
the renewable raw-material par excellence, we will need as much wood
as we can produce when the fossil fuels run out, so to use it for
any unnecessary purpose is squandering our future. Even now there
are much more important uses for it.
Sensitively managed woodlands protect the environment in many other
ways. Prolific wildlife habitats encourage the balance of nature so
that populations are held in check, rendering pesticides unnecessary.
Recycled paper is important because of its environmental benefits,
which can make a contribution to improving the state of the world
Papermaking from virgin pulp is often described with misleading terms
such as paper from sustainable forestry. Here the word
sustainable is used only to indicate that as many new trees are planted
as are cut down.
The truth is that by any real measure of sustainability agro-forestry
is actually environmentally damaging in a number of different ways:
- mono-cultures of fast growing conifer plantations support relatively
little wildlife and can cause acidification of soil and water courses.
They exhibit all the bad features of single-crop agriculture at
- when cropped they are clear-felled and replanted, a practice which
badly disrupts the soil structure and natural eco-systems.
- cropping is carried out by large-scale machinery which leaves
a scarred and disrupted landscape, and offers employment for very
few rural people (contrary to the claims of the industry).
- newly planted trees have difficulty in becoming established in
the damaged soil, so herbicides are heavily relied on to prevent
competition from other plants.
- the 'trees-only' culture ensures a rapid build up of pests, especially
insects. With no habitat provided for predators the use of insecticides
becomes inevitable, further damaging the environment.
Making paper from trees also adds an environmental burden, because:
- it has to use chemical processes to treat new pulp and create
high white finishes.
- it is a waste of the timber, an increasingly valuable environment-friendly
raw material, consisting of locked-up carbon dioxide, with many
more vital uses.
Paper from waste needs much less energy and water required to
make it compared to wood pulp, greatly reducing both carbon dioxide emissions
(from the energy required) and water borne pollution at the same time. The diagram below uses the example of Xerox Recycled paper we supply to illustrate the environmental savings which can be achieved.
Saving the planet's resources - how much can be saved by making recycled paper
Landfill and the throwaway society
Another serious problem is what to do with our waste if we dont
recycle it. Already land-fill is becoming a planning no-go area, and
incineration adds to the problems of atmospheric pollution. Paper
left to rot still releases the carbon dioxide in its fibre into the
air, so re-use is a far better option. Indeed, do we have any alternative
other than to recycle? If not, then we must insist on buying products
made from recycled materials whenever we can.
A more positive image
Early attempts at recycling paper concentrated on the lowest quality
products, and the bad public image this created has been difficult
to change. As well as this problem, some virgin-pulp papers - for
example copier, where production is vast and competition fierce
- make the smaller-scale recycled equivalent appear to be economically
This has in turn led people to believe that all recycled paper
costs more than the conventional type, which is simply not true.
As a general rule, the better the quality if the paper, the more
attractive the price of the recycled alternative.
One thing which is not disputed is that recycled paper today can
match, quality for quality, most of the conventionally produced
grades. If your need is for prestige papers, recycled grades can
match the quality of virgin-pulp papers, while being more beneficial
for the planet - and therefore for you!