Recycled paper: What does going green mean? - PFL Printing Blog
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  • slider 29 Sep 2008        By: Jessie

The movement to go green in as many ways as possible is not a new notion. We recycle just about everything these days and for good reason. More often than not people find it odd not to be able to simply take their cans, plastic and paper to the curb anymore and have it magically taken off their hands (hint, hint Livingston City Council).  It would seem, then, that going green when you want something printed would be simple as well. Not so fast.

If you request that a printer use recycled paper for your project, do you know what that really means? Recycled paper, for example, is not the same as paper made from Post Consumer Waste (PCW). In the paper industry, recycled is the term used for paper pulp and scrap that is left over from the paper-making process that gets thrown back into the pulper in order to make more paper. Most commercial-grade paper usually has some recycled content in it. 

Paper with PCW content, as most people know, is made from paper that you and I send to the recycling center every week. The natural reaction is to request paper that is made of 100% PCW content. It is “true” recycled paper as most people understand it. However, there are two very important questions you need to ask yourself. Do you know what it takes to get the PCW paper back into printable material, and what is your budget?

The fact is, paper is probably the most important aspect of your printed piece. Its finish, brightness, and whiteness factors all contribute to the crispness and color of your final product. And although choosing a PCW paper is initially attractive for green reasons, the amount of chemical processing it takes to get PCW paper back to commercial-grade quality is staggering, and the process yields a very expensive product. And don’t forget, that chemical waste has to go somewhere afterwards.

In the end, you’re going to get a better-looking piece at a more reasonable price by going with a printer’s line of house paper stocks. Not all printers and house stocks are the same, as you can imagine. One can go  “light green” if not green by asking the right questions. More on that next time.

4 thoughts on “Recycled paper: What does going green mean?

  1. When ‘Going Green’ hit the company I work for, many people asked me to use recycled paper for their marketing materials. I contacted my printer and asked about my options. They happily sent me several samples of recycled paper stocks… but with heavy warnings regarding print quality and pricing.

    The print quality was horrible and the cost was 3 times more than the norm. When I discussed the issues with my printer, they explained that the paper stocks I usually use contained 10-30% recycled material and suggested I continue using those because the greater the recycled content, the lower the quality went. I made no change- but I did a little research on the manufacturers of the stocks I used.

    If “printing green” is absolutely important to your client, without the loss of quality, you can consider purchasing paper stocks with the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) label. Simply put, SFI wants to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of forests. You can learn more about it here:

    I can tell my clients that the paper products I have chosen to use have a percentage of recycled materials, are 100% recyclable and come from a manufacturer that genuinely cares about the environment by being SFI certified.

    I didn’t even think about the chemical treatment process recycled paper goes through until I read this article. I can add that point to my list!

    Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the comment and the resource! It’s easy to understand how customers or coworkers can jump to the term recycled. It’s sexy. All projects come down to scope, schedule or cost. As designers working with clients or sales and customer service representatives working with customers, it’s our job to ensure we determine what is most important and effective guide them to make the right decisions.

  3. I’ve seen a couple of different ‘certifications’ for green printing or sustainable printing practices that printing companies are claiming. A couple I’ve seen are SFI and FSC. What is the difference in the various certifications out there and which ones should I really be looking for? And do they really mean anything, or is it just lip service by printers pretending to be “green” printers? Great blog post and good info on recycled paper and what it really means – I was not aware. Thank you!

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