Enironmental Papers

“Designers make the world's most beautiful trash”
-Scott Ewen from Emigre

I love design. More specifically I love print design. It’s the texture of the paper and the smell of the ink that makes me warm and fuzzy on the inside. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the print industry–it creates a lot of waste. Choices designers make about a printed piece directly impact the environment, some good others bad.

There are several ways to make sure your design is environmentally friendly. However, one of the most basic areas to consider is paper. Why is paper so important? Globally paper production has tripled in the past 30 years. (www.wri.org). Paper manufacturing is the third largest consumer of fossil fuel and has the single largest consumption of water per pound of finished paper. (Print Design and Environmental Responsibility- AIGA)

To put it simply papermaking is; energy intensive, uses huge amounts of water and generates large amounts of pollutants and waste.

These are just the facts of the industry. But better choices are out there, understanding them is the first step in reducing waste.

Recycled paper is the designer’s go-to choice for making sure their design hasn’t had a detrimental effect on the environment. Paper recycling uses less energy, creates fewer emissions and reduces the amount of waste that is going to the landfill. There are several high quality recycled papers, and most are usually a completely viable paper option.

To make the biggest impact, choose a paper with a high percentage of post-consumer content, most papers will specify the post-consumer content. Post-consumer content is when the paper product has reached the consumer, is used and then recycled. One interesting thing to note is that paper can be recycled numerous times.

While recycled content is one of the most important considerations to selecting a waste reducing paper, it isn’t the only one. There are several kinds of certifications that give assurance of a lower impact on the environment. Below I examine two, sustainable certifications and minimized chlorine use certifications.

Paper carrying sustainable “chain of custody” certifications help reduce demand on forests and in turn reduce waste.
FSC- Forest Stewardship Council

FSC is an international, non-governmental organization dedicated to responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC is generally agreed to be the most stringent of certifications available. FSC emphasizes tracking the fiber (both recycled and virgin fibers) all the way from forest to the printer. This provides assurance of the fibers origin and impact. FSC principals of stewardship include consideration of environmental, social and economic factors. There are three types of certified papers.

FSC 100%
Products with this label come entirely from forests certified as meeting the environmental and social standards of FSC.

FSC Recycled
These products support the re-use of forest resources and use only post-consumer recycled wood or fiber.

FSC Mixed Sources
These products support responsible forest management worldwide. The wood comes from FSC-certified forests, company controlled sources (not FSC certified but wood that avoids products from areas where tribal or civil rights are violated, high conservation values are threatened, genetically modified trees, illegally harvested wood and natural forests that have been converted for non-forest use) and/or post consumer re-used material. At least 70% of the used material must be FSC certified or post-consumer recycled.

SFI- Sustainable Forestry Initiative
Promotes responsible forestry practices. Operations across the United States and Canada must be audited against the SFI forest standard. SFI certifies forests, fiber sourcing and also has a chain of custody certification.

Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA)
CFPA certification attests that papers are made without the use of chlorine compounds. They have three certifications to look for.

TCF –Totally Chlorine Free,
This term is applied to 100% virgin fiber that is bleached without chlorine or left unbleached. It only applies to virgin fibers because the sourced fiber from recycled papers cannot be determined.

PCF- Processed Chlorine Free
Used to identify paper made from post-consumer waste and bleached without chlorine or left unbleached.

ECF-Elemental Chlorine Free
Identifies paper that is made from either virgin paper or recycled fiber and is bleached using an alternative to chlorine compound as a substitute to elemental chlorine.

Ready to start being “greener”? Paper certification is only one step in a series of many to becoming a more sustainable society. Yet, it isn’t a small choice. The industry is changing every day, and products and processes are being modified to tread lighter on the environment. Staying educated and alert to these options will help you make the right decisions for your next print piece. When you are ready to have a design piece printed, ask to see paper swatches that are made from recycled and certified fibers.

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