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Recycled Paper Supplies

the very best in recycled paper and stationery products

  information pages

recycling is natural

forests and the
greenhouse effect

unsustainable forestry

landfill and the
throwaway society

a more
positive image


paper = trees?

beginning of wood pulp

papermaking by hand, c.1790
by hand, c.1790

recycling symbol
what is
recycled paper?

the ABCD system

using the
ABCD classification

The need
for standards

Blue Angel

Environment Rating



What is recycled paper?

The generally accepted definition of recycled paper is paper made from recycled fibre, the most easily obtained and processed source of which is waste paper.

Unfortunately the re-pulping of waste paper progressively breaks the fibres into shorter and shorter lengths, creating the most significant difference between recycled and `virgin' wood pulp paper - the relative stiffness of the sheet, when comparing the same `weight' of sheet.

To produce the optimum quality of paper for its intended purpose, the papermaker has to balance the types of waste fibre used, in order to give strength and stiffness while at least minimising and hopefully eliminating the use of virgin wood pulp.

The ABCD system

Up to a few years ago the National Association of Paper Merchants (NAPM) used a classification system to identify the proportion and source of waste fibre used to make recycled paper, which used the letters A to D, each letter accompanied with a figure indicating the percentage of that source. It was a useful system because it is important to understand the differences between these four sources of waste.

A: Mill broke
This is pulp which has been on the papermaking machine but not turned into saleable paper. It has virtually the same properties as virgin wood pulp and has always been re-used by paper mills - indeed it could be argued that it is not a waste product at all. Consequently the NAPM scheme does not recognise a paper as recycled if it contains more than 25% mill broke and/or virgin wood pulp. The longer fibres in mill broke are used to increase the strength of a paper.

B: 'Woodfree' unprinted waste
The term 'woodfree' causes the most public confusion, as the paper is anything but 'wood-free'. The name indicates that when originally pulped the 'woody' lignins in the timber were destroyed in a chemical reaction (part of the environmental problem of conventional papermaking), to produce a higher quality paper. If not removed, the lignins - the inflammable part of the wood - cause paper to yellow and become brittle with age (as, for example, old newspapers do). You can see exactly the same process in the way pine furniture changes colour with age.

Category B waste comes mainly from paper mills and converters, for example reel and guillotine trimmings, and has not been printed or 'used' in the generally accepted sense.

C: 'Woodfree' printed waste
This comes nearer to most peoples idea of what recycled paper should be made from, but because it should only include woodfree paper, it tends to come from limited specific sources, for example, scrapped work direct from printers or discarded paper and envelopes from offices of very large companies.

Some would argue that the chief sources of category C waste should themselves be using recycled paper, and that recycling this it is only a cosmetic solution. On the other hand some newer, longer fibre is essential in producing high quality recycled paper, and this is the most appropriate source for making the very best recycled qualities.

Ink in category C waste is either removed by a cleaning process which chemically 'floats' it off or by dispersing it throughout the pulp. The latter is environmentally preferable, but makes the paper less white and so (to the uneducated!) less attractive.

D: Mechanical and unsorted waste
Mechanical paper pulp is more frankly named - the wood is pulped by a combination of heat and maceration, but because it retains the lignins it is only really suitable for short-term uses - for example newspapers and directories. The lignins present in category D waste can survive into recycled paper made from it, unless the pulp is retreated to remove them. Consequently some fading of colours or yellowing when the paper is exposed to daylight over time make recycled paper containing category D waste more suitable for uses such as photocopies which are filed, or for other items with a more limited life.

Category D covers almost all domestic waste paper, including that collected by councils, local recycling centres and paper banks, and is largely used in making packaging materials (brown paper and cardboard boxes for example). Some of this type of waste is used in making the cheaper recycled office copier and similar types of paper.

Using the ABCD classification
The waste content of a recycled paper is indicated by the category letter (above), prefixed with a figure showing the percentage of that category in the manufacture of the paper.Thus a paper described as 40C/60D contains 40% category C waste and 60% category D waste.

Papers containing the largest proportions of categories C and D waste offer the greatest environmental benefits, principally in saving of waste land-fill.

While it might appear that the ultimate enviromentally beneficial paper would be made from 100% D waste, factors like suitability for a particular use and also the more subjective perception of paper quality make this more difficult to achieve.

In addition, category D waste can now contain significant amounts of previously recycled paper, and so progressively shortening the average fibre length. Consequently, some fibre from higher up the chain is needed to maintain its strength. However, this does not justify the use of proportions as high as 50% virgin pulp in a 'recycled' paper, as produced by some manufacturers. This is simply 'environmental tokenism', and should be treated accordingly.

Indeed, the Forestry Stewardship Council, which was set up to protect the interests of the European forestry industry, refuses to acknowledge the contribution that recycling makes to the welfare of the environment, and any FSC certified paper containing recycled materials is only marked as containing 'mixed fibres'. For this reason we do not support the use of FSC certification for recycled paper products, as it makes no serious contribution to environmental concerns.


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