Buy Paper With the Planet in Mind

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Even in this electronic era, paper continues to play an integral role in our daily lives. Americans depend on about 85 million tons of paper and paperboard a year to help us clean, organize, advertise, educate and much more, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Unfortunately, this pulpy product comes with environmental drawbacks. These include the loss of biodiversity associated with permanent forest destruction; an energy- and water-intensive production process that generates greenhouse gases and hazardous byproducts; and a life cycle that ends in a landfill or incinerator nearly half the time.

Of course, we have choices. We can lessen paper's environmental blow first and foremost by reducing our reliance (using cloth towels in the kitchen, printing on both sides of the sheet at the office, etc.). And, when we really need to use paper, we can make better-educated buying decisions.

Here are a few tips for purchasing eco-friendly paper:

Buy recycled. Doing so saves landfill space, supports green jobs and "reduces the total amount of resources you're using," says Susan Kinsella, executive director of Conservatree, a nonprofit organization that advocates using more sustainable paper.

Study labeling carefully. Look for products that contain post-consumer waste (or material that has completed a full life cycle); the higher the percentage, the better. A chasing-arrows symbol may simply mean a paper product is recyclable, while the word "recycled" may refer to only a small percentage of recovered fibers.

Demand certification. A number of organizations certify that the virgin fiber used in a given paper comes from responsibly managed forests. Kinsella says the one environmentalists trust most is the Forest Stewardship Council. Check with your printer or paper supplier to see whether it carries FSC-certified lines.

Consider tree-free options. Some paper is now made from agricultural crops and residues, several of which have a higher yield per acre than some types of trees used in papermaking and may have other benefits. Tree-free material is available for personal use (think cards and invites), but before buying, investigate its origins and the farming practices used. For a list of suppliers, check out

Contemplate color. Paper bleached without the use of chlorine or chlorine derivatives is less polluting. Unbleached is another step up. And when using a professional printer, ask for vegetable-based inks.

-- Jenny Mayo

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