Buying Postconsumer Recycled Products Saves More Than Trees

by Joyce Kravetz

(Click here for resources on alternative fibers and wood-use reduction.)

A 90% increase in demand for paper products is expected by the year 2010. This is happening when half of the world's original forest cover is gone and in the U.S. only 5% of our natural forest cover remains. The U.S. consumption of about 30% of the world's paper helps fuel this demand. So why is 70% of the paper we use not made with recycled content and why are people recycling less?

This is one area where every person has power. We may not be able to control the multinational companies, but we can control what we buy. Every time we purchase something that has recycled content we are making a difference. Every time we wash, sort and recycle our goods we make a difference. In addition to saving landfill space, it saves raw materials, and decreases the amount of air and water pollution.

According to Katherine Guerin, executive director of the Maine Resource Recovery Association, for every 1 ton of scrap paper we recycle we save: 17 trees, 4200 kilowatt hours of electricity, 7000 gallons of water, and 3 cubic yards of landfill space. In addition, 60 pounds of effluents are not emitted into the air.

To keep the cycle going, "recycled" materials must be needed and have value. This is called "closing the loop" in recycling lingo and it means purchasing products with post-consumer waste, products that have been made with materials that were used by someone and then recycled.

Currently, very few towns and businesses purchase office products with post-consumer waste. They do not realize that most recycled items do not cost more and are of high quality. If they have found a few products that do cost more, they do not want to spend any extra money to buy them.

Using taxpayer money, towns are smart to be fiscally conservative. In this instance, though, they are shooting themselves in the foot. The more their "recovered" materials are in demand, the higher the price they will receive for them. Perhaps they will pay a little more when they buy some post- consumer products to get the market rolling, but at the same time they will be paid more for their municipalities' "recycled" material. Most important, by building a solid market for "recovered" or "recycled" goods, manufacturers would feel safe to invest in processes that use recovered material and competition would increase. This would eventually drive down prices. Schools, colleges, hospitals, and businesses all have an important role to play.

Today you can buy many products made from the paper, cardboard, newspapers, metal, and the plastic we recycle. High quality, white and colored copy papers, file folders, envelopes, legal pads, storage boxes, adding machine rolls, toilet tissue, and paper towels are just a few of the paper products. Desk accessories, pencil holders, and mouse pads, are made with recycled plastic. Pencils come from newspapers and cardboard; scissors from metal. The list is endless. The average office supply vendor should have over 2000 products with post-consumer recycled content.

The consumer's power is well illustrated by Bowater's actions. Bowater built a recycling pulp mill right next door to their paper making plant, Great Northern Paper, because their customers - newspapers and telephone directories - demanded it. As Bart Harvey, wastepaper buyer of Bowater states, "(recycled papers) are an important component of the products we make, because our domestic customers require 40% post-consumer." In 1997, only 17% of Bowater's needs for this wastepaper, newspaper and the coated papers from magazines, came from Maine. The other 83% had to be freighted in from the other New England states and even from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Bowater uses 450-500 tons of wastepaper each day. Although Harvey doubted Maine, due to its low population density, would ever be able to supply that much wastepaper, he agreed that getting more from Maine would help lower freight costs.

Most manufacturers of paper products are looking at the consumer demand for recycled content products. If every organization made a commitment to increase the amount of materials they purchase with post-consumer waste, the market for recycled goods would build and everyone one of us would gain. When the auto manufacturers of Saturn specified that all their waste had to be recyclable so they could reach their goal of 0% waste, they changed the way goods were shipped. People, like us, thought up those goals and demanded the changes.

Americans use more paper than any other country. A tree takes decades to grow. In addition to making wonderful wood and paper pulp, trees remove carbon and add oxygen to the atmosphere, create habitats, stabilize soil, and cleanse water to name just a few of their amazing attributes. Sometimes a paper product's life cycle is less than 20 seconds, e.g. fliers in the mail, tissue to blow your nose, etc. Buying paper with recycled content is something everyone can do to slow the demand for paper pulp.

According to Guerin, we currently recycle around 10,000 tons of paper yearly- saving around 170,000 trees or about 1000 acres of forest. One person in a company or office can make the difference. Ask your purchaser to specify post- consumer products. Put out your newspapers and magazines. We are part of the problem. We can also be part of the solution.


Joyce Kravetz is an independent distributor for Recycled Office Products, Inc. Contact her at 207-262-5585 for more information.


Joyce's company supplies The Forest Ecology Network with Rolland "New Life" paper for all mailings and correspondence. It is 80% postconsumer waste and bleached without chlorine. The Maine Woods is printed on 100% recycled, non-bleached paper, 90% of which is postconsumer waste.


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