In what might be considered as the predecessor to greenwashing, the long-standing directive to buy products that are made from recycled materials is perhaps not necessarily the most eco-conscious option. For the latest issue of the eQ Journal, Sappi's sustainability brand takes a deep dive into the pros and cons of post-consumer waste to impart a more nuanced understanding of recycled fiber and its unique constraints.
Some consumers focus on purchasing paper with a high percentage of recycled fiber. This drive for recycled content is often based on the false assumption that more recycled fiber in every product and paper grade is always better for the environment.
In reality, there are many other factors involved in the life cycle of paper, and these factors can only be fully understood and quantified by taking a comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) approach. LCA accounts for the environmental impact of every step involved in the life of paper—this includes everything from material acquisition and processing to end use and disposal.
Sappi uses LCA to determine what applications of recycled fiber (and at which levels) can yield the most benefit. As it turns out, many Sappi papers that do not contain recycled fiber have a significantly lower carbon footprint than other papers on the market that do contain recycled fiber.
The 30+ page document is full of interesting facts: "The U.S. EPA encourages use of the term 'recovered fiber' over 'waste' to acknowledge that this material is a valuable resource"; "It is possible to recycle fiber an estiamted 4–7 times, but in reality... as much as 80% of the fiber can be lost after two rounds of collection and processing."
» See the short intro video and download the PDF here.