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Part I - Introduction

Paper purchasers have more choices than ever before these days, both in the number of environmentally sound papers available and in the types of decisions they can make about what's in the paper, how it was made, and even whether they really need it at all. Having so much choice in papers also brings responsibility. Purchasers are now very literally in the position of "voting with their dollars" for the types of production systems used and their paper's impact on resources and environmental quality, even if all they buy is virgin paper.

This Green Paper gives an overview of how:

  1. different production materials (postconsumer recycled content, agricultural fibers, or trees) affect long-term resource demand,
  2. printing and writing paper is made,
  3. bleaching and processing chemicals used in papermaking affect environmental outcomes,
  4. purchasers have important environmental decisions to make even before they think about what paper to buy,
  5. purchasing, design and printing choices determine the environmental soundness of a paper project, and
  6. we can all encourage better environmentally sound choices for the future.

The goal is to support production of papers that reduce demand on forests, incorporate pulp from sustainably grown crops (which may include trees), and dramatically reduce waste by using materials that were formerly thrown away: recyclable paper and agricultural residues. Combining these choices with environmentally sound bleaching processes can produce high quality paper while making the most efficient use of resources, promoting conservation and preservation of natural habitat, and minimizing negative impacts on the environment and human health.


Current papermaking methods developed in response to 18th-century resource shortages. For all the state-of-the-art technology now incorporated into modern paper mills, the industry's underlying structure is still based upon a world view that was transformative in the 19th-century but is out-of-date as the 21st century approaches.

Newspapers had started appearing in the late 1600s and early 1700s. The increased communication they afforded instigated all kinds of revolutions, affecting commerce, government, institutions, and even the Independence of the United States. But the paper industry of that day, which relied on fiber from recycled cotton and linen, was stymied by rag shortages and couldn't keep up with the growth in demand.

For over a hundred years, inventors and entrepreneurs searched for new ways to make paper. The breakthrough development in the mid-1800s of reliable methods for pulping trees was one of the factors that led to the explosion in commerce towards the end of that century. It helped fuel the transformation of the United States from an agrarian nation into an industrial culture, which eventually became the corporate society in which we now live.

As the U.S. ended the nineteenth century, the prevalent world view beheld a relatively small population and a rich land of what appeared to be endless resources, much of them in undeveloped and unpopulated parts of the country. In the midst of enthusiasm to meet seemingly limitless needs (increasingly manipulated by advertising) for new products, the federal and state governments enacted laws to spur industrial development. These laws encouraged resource depletion through tax credits and below-cost government assistance, favoring virgin resource industries in many ways, including advantageous freight rates. For the most part, pollution was not a concern both because the land seemed vast enough to absorb it and because people did not understand its long-term danger.

Now, partly because the corporate transformation was so successful, the U.S. is blessed with a large population and a generally high standard of living that demands more and more resources. Populations in the rest of the world are multiplying quickly and those peoples are striving to duplicate this standard of living as well. No longer can resources, whether North American or global, be seen as "infinite." No longer can we expect clean water to be ever-flowing or energy to be without costs. No longer are we ignorant of the damage pollution and toxicity cause not only at point of origin but also, in many cases, half a globe away.

Slowly people are recognizing that the foundation for the continued health of our economy is shifting. Responsible "economics" can no longer be limited to finances. Rather, we must increasingly take into account environmental quality and sustainability for future generations as well. This changes how we evaluate the appropriate structure for production and distribution systems, and even whether some products are needed at all.


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