CHICAGO — PAPER manufacturers and distributors are rushing to grab a share of the rapidly growing market for office products made from recycled paper.Boise Cascade, one of the nation's largest papermakers, announced in June the start of production of recycled uncoated white paper at its Vancouver mill. The output of recycled paper was expected to gradually rise to 30 to 40 percent of the mill's 110,000 ton/year capacity. But it has already reached that target, says Andrew Drysdale, a spokesman for the Idaho-based company. "We do market research," he says. "We keep our eyes and ears open. We were hearing from a variety of sources that this segment was going to grow. Indeed, it's healthier than we thought." Quill Corporation, one of the nation's largest private office supply companies, first offered recycled office supplies in six pages of its February 1990 catalog. That has grown to 16 pages in the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based mail order firm's latest catalog. Sales of file folders, memo pads, rolls of adding machine paper, interoffice envelopes, and more - all containing recycled fibers - have grown to make up 2 to 3 percent of the company's annual $300 million volume. "The trend for recycled paper emerged in the last two or three years," says Harvey Miller, vice president of operations at Quill. "It's really picking up now." "We see that same demand and trend," says Rose Marie Kenny, a spokeswoman for Hammermill Papers in Memphis, Tenn. "The end-user is driving this."
Landfill is the problem There was a push during the 1970s to use recycled paper, Ms. Kenny notes. "Then the issue was saving a tree. But trees are replaced. We plant them, we cut them, we plant them again." "The problem now is landfill," she says. "I think that this one is going to stick." Mr. Drysdale agrees: "It's clear in this country that people are serious about recycling paper because of the landfill issue." Hammermill reports that the United States had 14,000 landfills operating in 1978, but only 5,500 by 1988. And that could decline to 2,200 by the year 2000. In reaction, people are looking for ways to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. By volume, 38 percent of solid waste in a landfill is paper and paperboard, according to Quill. Hammermill notes that 39 states and hundreds of local governments have passed laws or resolutions calling for the purchase of recycled paper. Businesses are getting into the act, too. McDonald's Corporation is printing its annual reports on recycled paper, for instance. Added costs usually make recycled paper more expensive, but not always, Miller notes. And as more manufacturers gear up for recycling, costs will come down, he says. Some of Quill's customers are willing to pay more for recycled paper products, but others only try it if the price is equivalent. Either way, Miller says, the quality has to be just as good or the customer won't reorder.
Definition of 'recycled' But what does "recycled" mean? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) differentiates between "pre-consumer" and "post-consumer" waste. Pre-consumer waste is the trimmings and other waste at the paper mill that is put right back into the papermaking process, where it averages 20 percent of the pulp mix. Post-consumer waste actually passed through the hands of an end-user before being recovered for recycling. "We consider post-consumer waste much more important," Miller says. "Pre-consumer waste was never going to the dump anyway." At least 18 states define recycled paper and specify how much pre- and post-consumer waste it must contain. But their definitions don't all agree. The EPA guidelines are undergoing revision, but so far say that for federal procurement purposes, recycled paper must contain a combination of pre- and post-consumer pulp equal to 50 percent of the total. Kenny notes that some companies whose products don't measure up unethically use the "recycled" claim as a marketing gimmick. But she warns that California, for one, has "humongous" fines for misleading consumers. "Our legal department looks at everything we send out regarding recycling."