Monday, March 10, 2008

They lied about recycled paper!

Back in January, Japanese paper industry got involved in dishonourable "recycled paper scandal". Major paper manufacturers were all lying about the mixture ratio of post-consumer paper in their products - "recycled paper".

I have no intention to support those companies that betrayed the consumers. But this case reminded me of my lingering question again: Honestly, is recycling so environmentally beneficial and economically feasible?

Well before it's been found that these companies were cheating, one of them, Nippon Paper Group had posted their policy on recycled paper on the website. According to that information,

1) Nippon Paper found that post-consumer paper that has been mixed was affecting the yield of final product (recycled paper) because of its deteriorated quality. As they mixed more post consumer paper, they got lower yield.

2) Due to the quality, using post-consumer paper could result in increased amount of energy use during manufacturing process, thus leading to more CO2 emission.

I interpret this to: Post-consumer paper is of low quality. You cannot really produce good quality stuff from bad quality stuff. If you want to do this, you will have to: 1) dilute bad quality material with virgin material so as it's not a problem anymore (which will inevitably lower the mixture ratio of post-consumer paper!) 2) use more energy along the process to compensate the low quality (more costly and bigger carbon footprints!), or 3) lie and cheat! (worst solution you could ever think of!!!)

Is my interpretation true? Were the companies not creative enough to overcome those obstacles? If not, why did so many companies have to lie?

In 2005, I did short-term research in Netherlands. Their recycled paper was not pure-white and much thinner than normal paper. (I mean, looked like of"recycled" quality!) But it is totally acceptable with me. I have no problem in using those papers......a bit worse quality than that is still okay, as long as it is environmentally beneficial!

I really want to define "recycled paper". What is the input to the system, what is added (virgin material, energy, chemicals.....compared to using 100% virgin material), and what is the output. If the output is much worse than normal paper, what is the acceptable level?

Unfortunately, when we say promote "recycling", it's moslty about how to raise collection rate. Not much discussion is made about the recycling process itself among consumers. This is one part because recycling process is highly technical, and part because recycling often happens in the third countries where you cannot really track the final destination.

But I am very interested in knowing what's actually going on. I am curious to know more about the recycle paper in the Netherlands.

1 comment:

wendygoerl said...

First of all, "recycling" has two different meanings in the paper industry. One is reprocessing "botched" paper in-house, which companies have been doing since the beginning of paper. The other is "post-consumer" recycling, which is what the average idiot thinks all "recycled" paper is.

Now the dominant part of paper is some kind of plant fiber. How long these fibers are to begin with varies depending on the type of meterial being used and how much it's chopped in pulping. Resume paper has fairly long fibers; toilet paper doesn't. Every time you reprocess the fibers, they get a little shorter. That's why resume papers have little to no recycled material, while toilet paper can have fairly high recycled content. So mid- to low-quality papers can be just fine with a high recycled content, but bringing post-consumer content up to the standards required for a high-quality paper may be more work than it's worth.

Of course, that's assuming we're talking about post-consumer paper. Fibers from old clothes, agricultural waste, (even STONE!) etc. can come into the "paper chain" with near-virgin status, and I've seen many good-quality papers with such post-consumer-not-as-paper fibers. (These often don't list their source fiber as "recycled" because it wasn't recycled from a previous PAPER incarnation)