One of our Solution Providers mentioned to his wife that, “Virgin Paper is as Green as Recycled Paper”, and her response was, “Say What! For real?!? Virgin Paper, you mean paper made from cutting trees, is as green as the recycled paper?”
When we heard of it, we thought it best to educate our fellow members as well! There is a thought-form in our heard Recycled = Green, but well that might always not be the case. Whilst paper recycling is good, it might not be the most sustainable choice. A lot of European consumers had shifted to Recycling products in the past only with the myth that they are being more sustainable, only to realize that Virgin Products are sometimes more sustainable or equally! After all, we need a balance between the consumption of recovered fibers and virgin fibers!
Recycled Paper or Tissue is manufactured using recovered fibers, which can be of pre-consumer and post-consumer nature. Pre-consumer is the industrial waste, the waste generated whilst converting the tissue and post-consumer is the waste generated when we put the used paper in a recycling bin.
Virgin Paper is Green and Sustainable
So coming to the elephant in the room, how is Virgin as Green as Recycled paper, and for our better understanding lets narrow down to one industry and the easiest for us is Tissue!
Recycled Tissue, is manufactured using Post-Consumer office waste, Tetra packs, and in some cases Kraft Boxes. They also use Pre-consumer Waste such as Tissue waste generated at converters end. The process:
- Collection and Sorting: An energy-taking process of segregating the waste at the landfills and collecting it from various offices, society, etc. With recycling technology advancing, we are sure in time this process will become efficient. However, talking about current times most countries are still relying on manual labor for the segregation of the same!
- Clean it: However as you can imagine the process there are lots of contaminants in the paper. Thus when the fiber arrives at the paper mill, it needs to be thoroughly washed as well as cleaned. The same is again an energy intensive prospect and increasing the usage of water!
- Getting consistency: When the fiber is cleaned, owing to the waste being from various sources, the color of the fiber is not consistent, and for any consumer product the same is a must, causing the need for heavy bleaching or dying! Thereby increasing the need for chemicals and the discharge of the same.
- Making the Fibers Reusable: Everytime a fiber is recycled the length of the fiber reduces making it weaker! In practicality, the paper can be recycled on average from 5-7 times depending on the grade! Thus in order to get the right tensile or Wet Strength, we need to add more resins and chemicals to achieve the same! We also need to add Virgin Fiber as sometimes the chemicals aren’t enough.
- AfterWords: Recycled Tissue is less absorbent with lesser strength compared to Virgin Tissue! Compared to the virgin tissue and there by increasing the usage as a consumer.
Now this is confusing right? But lets see the benefits of Virgin Vis-à-vis Recycling:
- Fiber Source: Virgin Tissue is made using wood pulp, sourced from managed and sustainable plantations. On average a tree takes 5 – 7 years to grow, whilst some softwood trees take up to 12 years. Imagine the amount of CO2 consumed by the tree for photosynthesis in the said period.
- One Can Never Replace Another: Reycled fiber can be used only a limited number of time before losing all its properties and hence you will always need virgin paper production to complement recycling
- Use Less Save More: Virgin Fiber is more absorbent and is stronger than recycled tissue making the consumption and usage lesser. There by saving you some money as well as saving the environment
- Process Waste: Most mills consume all the process waste received from the processing of tree logs to pulp and the water used in the manufacturing of the paper. Thereby reducing the discharge. Unfortunately owing to the varied waste received by recovered fibers, it is hard for the mill to consume or re-use some of the impurities that come along with the fiber.
So should we not recyle?
Recycling is a good process, and the need for the hour. Whilst recycling is a better option in comparison to incinerating the waste or letting it accumulate in the landfill. In fact, paper is an industry with very high levels of collections, as most corrugated cartons, and lower-valued paper is made from recovered fibers. Also recycled fiber is cheaper than virgin fiber, generally as the cost of the initial fiber is 0!
Recycled Tissue is also cheaper than Virgin Tissue in most cases, however as we mentioned there are lot of technical advancements in the industry, with some mills producing 100% Recycled Tissue which outperform their Virgin Counterparts, and these sell for far more. Some mills in North America and Europe also use better manufacturing technology in tissue such as TAD to impart better properties in the paper and keeping its cost competitiveness.
Thus Recycling is not bad and we should encourage it, but nor is Virgin bad! There needs to be a balance, and ultimately we must only use what we need!
“Reduce. Re-use. Recycle! But also use their Virgin Counterparts, for you cant only have Recycled Paper”
Learn more about the evolution of paper.