Debunking the Myths of Recycled Paper


In Singapore, about 42% of the waste paper is recovered for recycling. In 1990, 230,00 tonnes of waste paper were recovered for this purpose. Recycling today is no longer a fad for the fashionable few. It is a major concern world-wide, involving government bodies, large corporations and organizations. 

Waste paper can be disposed of in three ways. It can be buried, burnt or recycled. The increasing shortage of landfills make burying an unfeasible long-term solution. Incinerating the waste paper causes air pollution. The only viable alternative is to recycle the paper. With the worldwide focus on a green Earth and the introduction of the Singapore government's Green Plan, interest in environmental issues and recycled paper has grown in the last two years. Recycled paper looks set to become a major part of our lives. Yet, much misunderstanding and confusion has arisen about recycled paper.

There is a lack of recycled paper standards in the industry. Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely as there is considerable fiber weakening and shortening at each stage of recycling. On average, paper made from virgin wood pulp can be recycled four to seven times. Thus, recycled paper has to be made up of a proportion of wood pulp. But there is the question of what percentage of waste paper should contain before it is considered to be recycled paper. This confusion has arisen from a lack of industrial standard for recycled paper. Different organizations have their own definitions and guidelines and these have in a way added to the confusion.

The United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) sets a minimum content guideline: recycled paper should have at least 50% waste fiber. This is merely a guideline and the paper manufacturers are not bound by law to follow. The British Paper and Board Industry (BPIF) also require recycled paper to contain at least 50% waste materials. The UK National Association of Paper Merchants (NAPM) on the other hand stipulates that recycled paper should contain at least 75% waste fiber.

These organizations also vary when it comes to stipulating the content of the waste. Basically, there are three categories of waste that can be recycled. They are mill broke, pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste.

Mill broke is waste material recovered from inside a paper mill during paper making process. This includes paper trimmings. Paper makers have always reused their broke. Many people do not consider paper made from mill broke as genuine recycled paper.

Pre-consumer  waste refers to waste paper that has been converted and perhaps printed but which has been discarded prior to reaching the consumer. This include printer off-cuts, envelope trimmings and rejected stocks.

Post-consumer waste is paper that is recovered after it has been used as a consumer item. It includes waste paper from offices and homes, old newspapers and packaging.

Except for NAPM, the other two organizations have not come up with strict requirements determining the composition of waste. Though EPA says that recycled paper has to contain 50% of waste, it does not stipulate that percentage of pre and post consumer waste that should be used. EPA insists that in California, recycled paper has to contain at least 10% post-consumer waste. However, it is said that the waste content of recycled paper there do not exceed this amount but only satisfy it. The BPIF even considers mill broke acceptable as waste fiber in the manufacture of recycled paper.

The NAPM has the strictest guidelines by far. It stipulates that recycled paper has to contain at least 65% pre-consumer fiber, and 10% post-consumer fiber. No mill broke should b considered as waste fiber.

"In buying recycled paper, you must understand what composition you are buying," said Lawrence Chan, manager of Office Paper and Stationary at Shiro Paper (Singapore) Pte Ltd. "For example, if you buy recycled paper made from mill broke, it does not really help the environment because the paper mills have always been ding it. Even before this trend towards recycling paper, mills have been recycling mill broke as it is only good housekeeping. "

"Personally, I feel that the important components are the pre- and post- consumer wastes," added Lawrence. "Instead of dumping them into landfills or incinerating them, you put them to good use."

Singapore has yet to draw up comprehensive guidelines defining recycled paper. However, certain tender specifications already exit for importers of recycled paper. For example, higher grade recycled paper, suitable for photocopying, typewriting and letterheads, must contain a minimum 50% of recycled fiber. Internal mill broke cannot be considered was waste fiber.

A commonly held perception is that recycled paper is more expensive. As a result, there is little incentive for people to switch from using paper made from 100% wood pulp.

This is not entirely true. Many types of recycle paper is cheaper than paper made from virgin pulp. these type of recycled paper are generally known as industrial grade recycled paper. Industrial grade recycled paper has been produced and used for a long time. It is used for producing kraft liners, paper boards, cartons, book covers, files and chip boards.

The type of recycled paper that is generally more expensive than unrecycled paper is commercial recycled paper. This type of paper is of better quality than industrial recycled paper. It is used to produce writing paper, photocopy paper and computer paper.

There are various reason why certain types of recycled paper are more expensive. Collecting and sorting waste paper are labour intensive activities. Some waste paper have to go through the expensive process of de-inking. To produce quality recycled paper also involves research and new technology. All these add to the costs of producing the paper.

Another reason for the higher price is a matter of demand and supply. Consumers are reluctant to pay for the more expensive quality recycled paper when they can pay less for paper made from virgin fiber. Suppliers on the other hand, are not willing to risk bringing in large amounts of recycled paper when there isn't a large market for the product.

"The price of recycled paper is actually higher because of the small volume compared to paper made from virgin fiber," said Lawrence. "Suppliers are faced with higher cost of bringing in recycled paper when there isn't a big market demand and potential. Thus the quantity they bring does nto justify the market demand. Consumers and suppliers are adopting a wait and see attitude."

The price of wood pulp also affects the price and eventually the demand for recycled paper. As long as the price of wood pulp remains low, as in the 1990/91 period, recycled paper would always remain comparatively more expensive.

According to Lawrence, recycled paper generally cost 10 t o 15% more than paper made from wood pulp.

It has also been said that recycled paper is inferior in quality compared to paper made from virgin pulp. However, in recent years, research and better technology have improved the aesthetic qualities of recycled paper. Today, the higher grades recycled paper on the market are comparable to unrecycled paper.

According to a spokesman from Hiap Moh Corporation, some artists are apprehensive of using recycled paper. They are afraid that this would reduce the quality of their work. To assuage their fears, the company has prepared a special brochure to prove that applications such as embossing, colour printing and foil stamping done on recycled paper can produce credible results.

Shiro Paper recently launched a range of paper called Conqueror Recycled to complement its existing range of Conqueror Fine Writing Paper. This range of recycled paper is made up of 65% pre-consumer waste, 10% post-consumer waste and 25%cotton and virgin fiber. Approved by the NAPM, Shriro claims that this recycled range is suitable for general corporate communications. This is because it produces very good results with printing processes such as lithography letter-process, thermography and foil blocking.

According to Lawrence, the outlook for distributors is bright. "As people become more affluent, more educated and sophisticated, they would buy a product not only because it is functional but also because it helps the environment. I believe that in the long run, people would switch to using recycled paper."


-Monica Cheang


Source : Directions, Feb/Mar, 1992

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