Sappi eQ Journal 005: Rethinking Recycling - Letter from the Editor

Laura M. Thompson, PhD, Director of Technical Marketing and Sustainable Development, Sappi Fine Paper North America
May 3, 2013 1:30 PM ET
Laura M. Thompson, PhD, Director of Technical Marketing and Sustainable Development, Sappi Fine Paper North America

eQ: Journals

Recycling paper is a great way to reduce our environmental footprint — but how we put that fiber to use is not a simple one-size-fits-all solution. We need to be responsible. We need to follow the science. We need to put recovered fiber to its best use, where it will lower emissions and the consumption of natural resources.

For decades, recycled content was the “go-to” attribute for making environmentally preferable materials — in both paper and other industries. It seems intuitive that if recycling is good for the environment, then using recycled fiber must also be good. And if a little bit of something is good, then more must be better. However, as the science of sustainability has matured, we have come to view issues more holistically — to approach complex concepts with systems thinking.

We’ve learned that what’s in your paper is only part of the picture. Responsible sourcing of materials is critical, but we must also consider the environmental impacts of manufacturing — including those associated with processing scrap paper. There are vast differences in systems that make deinked pulp for use in graphic paper versus other recycling systems that have higher yield with less environmental impact.

Using recycled fiber is not a one-size-fits- all solution. In fact, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued environmental marketing guidance, stating that “Claiming ‘Green, made with recycled content’ may be deceptive if the environmental costs of using recycled content outweigh the environmental benefits of using it.”

Despite the fact that paper far outshines other materials in recovery rates, there are still major opportunities and challenges ahead. When assessing the full life cycle of printed materials, we know that greenhouse gas emissions from landfill disposal are a key contributor to a product’s carbon footprint. The growth of single stream recycling has improved recovery rates, but it also has significant downstream impacts for paper in terms of increased costs and lower quality. But many regions have passed the tipping point of investment in collection and sorting systems, so we must learn to cope with these challenges.

One solution is to make sure that recovered fiber is put to its best use. We must work to ensure that fiber flows to where it makes the most economic and environmental sense. It’s easy to believe that more recycled content is always better, but the answer is not that simple. We are committed to researching and following the science behind this complex issue.

We invite you to explore these issues with us. In this edition of the eQ Journal 005: Rethinking Recycling, we review recycled fiber markets, offer an in-depth look at single stream recycling, learn about the trade-offs associated with using recycled fiber in different applications and hear from leaders across other segments in the industry.

We also discuss Sappi’s overall commitment to waste management and our efforts to support recycling education and outreach. We touch on the importance of life cycle analysis, as we detail the cradle-to-gate greenhouse gas emissions at our Somerset Mill.

Lastly, we offer insights for how everyone can reduce their environmental impact across the life cycle of printed materials. We must continue to increase paper recovery and do our homework to make appropriate procurement decisions. We must also stop looking at recycling as an excuse for excessive consumption and remember the other R’s that come first: reduce and reuse. So if you choose to print this letter, please consider keeping it for future reference, or share it with a friend and remind them to recycle it.

To read the full journal, please visit our eQ microsite and download a PDF of the publication: eQ Journal 005: Rethinking Recycling