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We got it right the first time. The first paper was created nearly 2000 years ago, and it was made from recycled materials. But, while the Chinese and Arabs refined papermaking, Europeans were slow to embrace it. It was not until Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s that paper development was recognized as critical. Then, however, it catalyzed a Renaissance and the shape of the world as we know it today. (History of Paper)

The pulp for papermaking can be made from all sorts of organic materials. Linen and cotton rags were the preferred source for centuries, but straw, bamboo, hemp, grasses, crops and crop residues were important sources, too, and continue to be in many parts of the world today. Processes for making pulp from trees were not developed until the mid-1800s, about the same time that the first patent was awarded for deinking wastepaper. While some have worried that deinking might turn out to be as environmentally damaging as virgin tree-pulping, it actually provides a positive solution to some of the problems created by virgin papermaking.

Papermaking is a highly developed technological process. The paper industry is complex and vast, with a powerful influence on government policies, resource management and international practices and trade. Printing and Writing grades, a significant portion of the industry, are primarily divided into coated and uncoated grades of paper. (See Paper Grade Descriptions.)

Most paper is not sold directly to purchasers. Distribution channels depend on whether you're buying in large or small quantities. Paper merchants representing various mills sell paper to purchasers who buy in large quantities (primarily printers, retailers, governments and businesses).Small quantities are sold through office supply stores, retailers, and mail order businesses.

Every industry has its own buzzwords and unique shoptalk, so we provide a Glossary of words used on this website that might be initially confusing.

Consistent Definitions for environmental contents and processes are critical for actually getting the paper you think you're buying. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's content guidelines for federal agencies have been widely adopted by state and local governments as well as businesses as de facto national standards for minimum recycled content. Most of the papers on Conservatree's Environmentally Sound Guide to Printing and Writing Papers meet these minimum content standards, although there are exceptions.

Labeling has always been questionable for recycled and other environmental product, and the Federal Trade Commission has consistently played it safe rather than providing leadership on this issue. Therefore, you need to look for specific words and phrases when relying on labeling.

Fortunately, there are some certification organizations that verify environmental attributes. While most papers have not been certified, those that are provide an added guarantee that they will meet your environmental expectations.

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