Sunday, September 16, 2012

To buy recycled paper or not to buy recycled paper?

The Internet has a warning sign before you enter its doors. You might not see the sign but, everybody knows what it says.

“CAUTION: In this realm there is no distinction between truth and lies, and deception will lead you on a goose chase for the right answer. Enter at your own risk.”

Fact or myth: Recycling is good for the environment? I don’t know.

The truth is (and this is actually the truth) the only people that do know are hidden under layers of propaganda inspired by tree-cutting companies and the companies that make recycled paper.

Let’s say you go to the local office supplies store and you are trying to decide between recycled paper and “virgin paper” (that is what they call it). Same price, same quantity. So, wouldn’t you grab the green stuff? You might even take another package just to feel good about yourself. One the package there is even a little certification seal saying some small consumer watchdog company or bureaucratic department with an official looking initials says it’s indeed green. What happened was (and this is happening all over the place), consumption is rising because everybody thinks that it’s all OK since it’s recycled. But, it’s not.

There are more hazardous by-products from a factory that produces recycled paper than a company that makes “virgin paper”. Maybe? According to Friends of the Earth, an environmental campaign based in the England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, studies on emissions from the companies that produce recycled paper are way more limited on the tons of studies that are done on virgin paper. That is understandable, right? Not everyone even knows what recycled paper is. You might not even.

However, Friends of the Earth goes on to quote two studies that found that recycled paper is superior in environmental value. What is interesting though is that this article says “Production of both virgin and recycled paper gives rise to pollutants which are discharged to water, called effluents.” Recycled paper and virgin paper both require bleaching or in the case of recycled paper- deinking. The process is relatively different in the making of both types of paper since recycled paper leaves a larger amount of total suspended solids (chemical) and Biological Oxygen Demand (chemical) while virgin paper leave behind more chemical oxygen demand (chemical).

To make white recycled paper the ink that previously used on it must be “erased”. This “de-inking”, is what causes the high levels of TSS and BOD. Also, extra materials like glue and staples are not always disposed of properly.

Meanwhile, the cutting down of trees and making of paper must have some effect on the environment, right (sarcasm)?

Our friends at Friends of the Earth say that “According to Waste Watch, who are part-funded by the UK Government, ‘recycled paper produces fewer polluting emissions to air and water’.”

In a New York Times article, The Hidden Life of Paper and Its Impact on the Environment, it states “Because of its consumption of energy, the industry — which includes magazines, newspapers, catalogs and writing paper — emits the fourth-highest level of carbon dioxide among manufacturers, according to a 2002 study by the Energy Information Administration, a division of the Department of Energy. The paper industry follows the chemical, petroleum and coal products, and primary metals industries.”

The article names coal as one of the sources of the pollution because paper companies use it as the highly required energy in this process.

Magazines and newspapers make the paper industry so large and dangerous. One study conducted by Times magazine found that one copy will have a 0.29 pound of greenhouse gas emissions effect.

So it is fair to say it is not recycled paper or virgin paper that is the criminal, but the overall paper industry.

There is that package of paper you bought in my previous hypothetical. That certification is right by the “8 ½ x 11” on the box.

Here is the weird texture of recycled paper. It comes in pure white but, writing one something that looks like it was dragged through the mud just has a cleaner feeling to it. Right?

Here is an ad by one of those recycled paper companies. Hard to make fun of because it is so ridiculously charming and I feel confused as a consumer and insecure about my paper selection.

If there is one thing I know, it is that I hate Seventh Generation. Overall great message but, there products are so watered down and flimsy that it makes being green look very undesirable for those that buy the product thinking they will change their lifestyle.

Australia’s Ministry of the Environment offers these solutions to reduce paper impact:
  • #60    using electronic versions instead of paper copies
  • #61    ensuring your printers and copiers can print two-sided and that this is set as the default
  • #62    setting fonts and margins to improve efficiency of paper use
  • #63    re-using single-sided copies for rough drafts and notepaper

1 comment:

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