Ask G

Ask G: Which type of office paper is the greenest?

Office paper is a common item we use. Here's how you can make a greener choice.

Can you please tell me which paper is the most environment-friendly to use? Should we use fully recycled ones from overseas or ones that have recycled paper but produce other non-recycled paper products too.
- Cate, NSW

office paper

Credit: iStockphoto

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Buying environmentally friendly paper is no walk in the park.

From recycled fibre percentage to chemical bleaching, the market is flooded with brands making various claims about their impact on the environment.

It can be difficult to see the forest from the trees so here are a few things to look out for when deciding which office paper is best for you and for the environment.

Recycled content

Recycling content is the percentage of the paper made from recycled material. This figure is broken down into pre- and post-consumer material.

The paper we recycle from our homes and offices is classified as post consumer material while excess paper from envelope and packaging production fills the pre-consumer category.

While a high percentage of post consumer material is great, it is the total amount of recycled fibres that are kept from landfills that is important.

But recycling is not necessarily the be all and end all of environment-friendly paper. Some companies make their paper using sustainably managed forests and paper and pulp mill processes that are extremely energy efficient. So in some cases, buying recycled paper from overseas is not as beneficial for Mother Nature as buying local paper from a sustainable company.

Not all companies provide a detailed break down on their packaging but the NSW Government offer a comprehensive guide to office paper from Australia and overseas (Get the pdf here.)

The University of Melbourne also has a guide to office paper.

Bleaching

Ink removal is one of the most challenging aspects of the paper recycling process.

To yield a high quality paper for office use, chemical bleaching is required. Chlorine based bleaching should be avoided because of the impact of waste products on the environment and human health.

Keep an eye out for papers labeled Totally Chlorine Free (TCF), Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) and Processed Chloride Free (PCF). Environmentally friendly options include Oxygen and hydrogen peroxide treatments.

Production costs

Another factor to consider is the energy required to produce recycled paper.

As a general rule, the better quality the paper the more energy it costs to produce. All office papers are required to meet international quality standards but there is not a standard body that regulates environmental impact.

Many international companies carry independent verification of their 'friendliness' with labels from environmental organisations such as the Forest Stewardship Council.

In Australia the Buy Recycled Business Alliance (BRBA) and Australian Environmental Labelling Association are labels to look out for.

Australian Made?

Buying Australian-made recycled paper will also reduce the carbon footprint of your home or office.

Of course, carbon emissions of transport within Australia have to be taken into account, but shipping products from overseas will have a slightly larger footprint. Keep in mind though, that air-freight has a much higher impact than shipping.

A trickier decision is whether to buy a product based on its environmental credentials, or the whole company's eco-cred. At the end of the day, it's arguable better for the entire company to reduce its impact, rather than just having a few green products.