Recycled Paper: The More I See You, the More I Like You!

Many of us have met someone who makes a lousy first impression. If we’re open-minded, we give them a second chance. Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised to learn we were way off base.

For some of you, this is the story of your experience with recycled paper. No one will ever convince you it’s a good thing unless they honestly acknowledge its early lack of grace. So think of the following as before and after shots of the recycled paper makeover—an historical perspective of then and now.

Types of PaperIn 1976, there were few recycled papers to choose from. They
were mostly book, text, and cover grades. There was no recycled copy paper or coated
Today, there are more than 400 recycled papers in virtually
every grade.
Recycled ContentIn 1976, almost all recycled content in printing and writing papers was
preconsumer pulp substitutes, including mill waste. There was pressure
throughout the ‘80s to include postconsumer content , especially from
California’s state government procurement law. It allowed a State price
preference for paper with at least 50 percent recycled/10 percent
postconsumer content. By the early ‘90s, most mills made printing and
writing papers containing at least 10 percent postconsumer recycled
Many mills are increasing the postconsumer content in their printing and
writing papers to 30 percent or higher, thanks to an Executive Order in
1998. It requires federal agencies to buy paper with at least 30 percent
postconsumer content. Most uncoated recycled papers meet at least that
minimum and many exceed it. Government agencies often set procurement
trends, which are followed by the business community at large.
QualityMany recycled papers sold in the early ‘80s were in the
developmental stage, and sometimes it showed. Printers complained about linting, dusting,
picking, limpness and other problems. Customers complained about jamming and splotches.
Now recycled papers are made by the best paper mills in the
world. Many high quality recycled papers are on the market. Recycled papers perform
competitively with virgin sheets in printing presses, copiers, laser printers, computers,
inserters, and most other paper equipment.
Aesthetics  Recycled paper used to come in tan, brown, and spotted brown.Now it comes in bright white, creams, and a wide palette of
colors. "Ecology spots" of the past are much less frequent, with improved
deinking systems. Ironically, the flecked look of early recycled papers has become so
popular, mills now add the spots back to otherwise clean sheets. Even virgin papers are
copying this look.
Paper Mills and Deinking SystemsRecycled paper cannot exist without the mills and equipment
to produce it. In 1976, there were more than a dozen printing and writing mills with
deinking systems. By the ‘80s, many closed, either because of outdated systems or
because the mills were bought by virgin paper companies that abandoned deinking.
Today, deinking mills are finding market niches, and as demand for
recycled paper builds, the costs of these facilities will become more
DistributorsIn 1976, only specialty distributors carried recycled paper.Now, recycled paper is available from virtually every paper
distributor around the country.
Paper RecoveryIn 1976, there was little postconsumer paper collected.
Typically, the only office paper collected was computer printout (CPO), and nearly all of
that went to tissue mills, not to printing and writing paper mills. The rest of the office
paper was "contaminated" with copier toner, which couldn’t be cleaned by
the deinking systems of the time. (Except some was used for paper products that
didn’t require deinking, e.g., industrial grade paper towels.) By the late ‘80s,
some systems could cautiously accept clean white office papers. But people still had to
sort out plastic window envelopes and colored paper.
Most companies have office paper collection systems, and recovered paper
dealers are developing new postconsumer sources. Most deinking systems can
handle laser and copier toner, plastic windows, and most colored paper.
Government LeadershipAlthough the federal government passed the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, it took 12 years until the US-EPA came out
with guidelines for printing and writing paper, which the recycling industry challenged as
too weak. Several states passed price preference and set-aside laws for recycled paper,
including California. These laws drove recycled paper development until the early
 By the early ‘90s, all 50 states had adopted some form of
legislation or executive order favoring recycled paper. The federal
government stepped back into firm leadership with the President’s Executive
Order requiring a minimum of 20% postconsumer content in recycled paper
bought by the federal government. This requirement was increased to 30% in
1998. The federal government is now one of the most committed customers of
recycled paper.
We’ve come a long way……in 30 years… but there’s still a ways to go. Recycled papers still make
up only a small segment of the paper business. The impressive progress to
date makes possible the achievement of the larger goal: recirculation of
scrap paper back into our paper production system in as environmentally
sound a manner as possible.

Your local paper supplier can help you touch and feel the newest in recycled paper—to see for yourself what high-quality products now bear the recycled logo. For more information on buying recycled, contact CalRecycle’s Buy Recycled Program at (916) 341-6481.

NOTE: Most of the information in this fact sheet was derived from the article, “The State of the (Recycled Paper) World” from Conservatree’s website. This material is quoted by permission.

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