Americans Recycle More Paper Despite Low Demand

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Americans are recycling more paper than ever before. But for recycling to reduce the amount of virgin materials used and to reduce pollution, more demand is needed for recycled products.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AFPA) reports that 63 percent of newsprint was recovered in 1996, up from 43 percent in 1990, to become an important new source of paper fibers.

"Recovered fiber is becoming as important a source of raw material as virgin fiber - or trees," says Elizabeth Seiler, a recycling expert with the industry group. "Paper recycling is experiencing phenomenal growth. We now look at recovered fibers as a raw material, and recovered fiber now represents 30 percent of the supply of raw materials industry-wide," Ms. Seiler explains.

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The AFPA estimates the overall United States paper recovery rate is 45 percent, with the goal of 50 percent paper recovery by 2000.

But recycling advocates say that isn't enough. "The key issue remains demand," says Amy Perry, Solid Waste Program Director of MASSPIRG, a consumer and environmental watchdog group. "We need to ensure that the economics work towards recycling's advantage. With greater demand for recycled paper, the mills will use more recovered material."

To that end, MASSPIRG is coordinating a national effort with other states with similar watchdog groups to have state and municipal governments around the country adopt recycled-paper purchasing requirements like those of the federal government.

A 1993 federal executive order required the government to buy recycled paper with 20 percent post-consumer materials as of Dec. 31, 1994. The standard increases to 30 percent in 1998. The US government is the world's largest publisher, and the executive order instantly created demand.

Recycled paper has pre- and post-consumer waste in it. Post-consumer waste is derived from recycled newspapers, magazines, and office waste. Pre-consumer waste is paper-mill trimmings and cuttings - paper that did not ever reach end users.

Paper processing requires use of toxins. After pulping, the pulp is bleached with chlorine dioxide to produce white paper. Bleaching yields as many as 1,000 different toxic organochlorides, of which dioxin is the most dangerous.

Recycling paper saves trees, diverts paper from the landfills, reduces the use of toxic chemicals, and saves energy.

According to Ted Vansant, president of Recycled Paper Printing Inc., a Boston-based paper supplier that uses and sells only recycled paper, the number of different recycled papers has increased. "There is more variety of recycled paper available within each grade," he says.

But there is still more to be done. "The challenge for the paper industry as we look to the future, and as we reach further into the waste stream is to find more sources for clean, high quality, not contaminated fibers," Seiler says.

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