Chlorine-Free Paper

Chlorine-free paper is an environmentally preferable alternative to paper bleached with chlorine. Chlorine and its derivatives (such as chlorine dioxide)—the most common bleaching agents used by the pulp and paper industry—are quite harmful to the environment, particularly the aquatic environment.

Chlorine is used to give paper its white appearance and to remove “lignin,” an element of wood fiber that yellows paper when exposed to sunlight (as occurs with newsprint). Wood-based paper is brown in its natural state, as evidenced by brown paper bags and most cardboard boxes, which are made from unbleached paper.

Both wood-based and tree-free papers are available in the chlorine-free variety, although the percentage of wood-based papers that are chlorine-free is very small, while the percentage of tree-free papers that are chlorine-free is very high.

Chlorine-free paper is categorized as either “totally chlorine-free” (TCF) or “elemental chlorine-free” (ECF). TCF paper is produced with pulp that has been bleached without any type of chlorine, or that has not been bleached at all. ECF papers are produced from pulp that has been bleached with a chlorine derivative such as chlorine dioxide (ClO2), but without elemental chlorine (Cl).

TCF papers are much more environmentally preferable than ECF papers because chlorine derivatives—while less harmful to the environment than elemental chlorine—still produce toxic chlorinated organic compounds, including chloroform, a known carcinogen. These compounds are released into waterways as effluent from the bleaching process, where they produce environmental damage. Oxygen, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide are some bleaching alternatives to chlorine and chlorine derivatives.

Recycled papers are typically “processed-chlorine-free” (PCF), which means that no chlorine or chlorine derivatives were used in the recycling process, but that papers which were originally bleached with chlorine or chlorine derivatives may have been used as feedstock. (Papers that were originally bleached with chlorine or chlorine derivatives retain some of the chemicals in their fibers.) Some paper recycling processes, such as those that produce white printing and writing papers, still use chlorine or chlorine derivatives to bleach the paper whiter. Recycled paper that is produced with chlorine or chlorine derivatives, is not PCF.

Purchasing Chlorine-Free Paper

There are very few sources of information identifying chlorine-free papers available for purchase. One known source is Conservatree’s Paper Guide, which identifies some PCF and TCF printing and writing papers.

Other Web Sites

Chlorine-Free Products Association: The Chlorine Free Products Association is a unique trade association representing companies dedicated to implementing advanced technologies, and/or, groups supporting products free of chlorine chemistry

Conservatree’s “Chlorine Free Processing”: A comprehensive information source about chlorine used in the paper manufacture process.

Mill Watch’s “Reach for Unbleached!” A national foundation and Canadian registered charity with a focus on consumer education and pulp mill monitoring.