​Recycling and Recycled Fiber

Recycling paper is a great way to reduce our environmental footprint – but how we put that fiber to use is not a simple one-size-fits-all solution. We need to be responsible. We need to follow the science and put recovered fiber to its best use.

All of Sappi’s coated fine papers are recyclable. However, industry data indicates that the printing and writing segment tends to lag behind other grades in regard to recycling rates. For example, AF&PA data for 2014 reports an outstanding 90 percent recovery rate for old corrugated containers while the printing and writing segment captured only 58 percent. For this reason, Sappi North America is dedicated to recycling outreach and education. From sponsoring local organizations to participating in national initiatives, we strive to reach a broad range of stakeholders and recycling outreach is a core of our Sustainability Ambassadors’ community engagement efforts.

This video walks through some of the economic and environmental trade-offs associated with using recycled fiber in coated fine papers.

For decades, recycled content was the “go-to” attribute for making environmentally preferable materials — in both paper and other industries. It seems intuitive that if recycling is good for the environment, then using recycled fiber must also be good. And if a little bit of something is good, then more must be better. However, as the science of sustainability has matured, we have come to view issues more holistically — to approach complex concepts with systems thinking.


We’ve learned that what’s in your paper is only part of the picture. Responsible sourcing of materials is critical, but we must also consider the environmental impacts of manufacturing — including those associated with processing scrap paper. There are vast differences in systems that make deinked pulp for use in graphic paper versus other recycling systems that have higher yield with less environmental impact. Our own cradle to gate analysis has shown that adding 10% post consumer recycled fiber to products made at our Somerset Mill increases the carbon footprint by 16%.

It is clear that using recycled fiber is not a one-size-fits all solution. In fact, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued environmental marketing guidance, stating that “Claiming ‘Green, made with recycled content’ may be deceptive if the environmental costs of using recycled content outweigh the environmental benefits of using it.”

Both the FSC and SFI certification programs have modified their standards to include post industrial fiber (PIF) as part of their claim and labeling schemes.  In considering this change, FSC published a comprehensive study with consideration for environmental, social and economic aspects.  They concluded that restricting claims to only post -consumer fiber was creating an uneven playing field in global markets and was actually distorting consumers’ perception on the value of recycled fiber.  The concept of removing the distinction between post consumer and post industrial fiber has long been supported by AF&PA and their members.  At Sappi, we support the AF&PA position that the distinction between post consumer and post industrial fiber limits recovered fiber use in products and may negatively impact US paper industry competitiveness.  In October of 2016, we began utilizing post industrial fiber as part of the 10% recycled content in Flo sheets.

eQ Insights
Download our white papers on carbon footprint analysis.
Learn more about the tradeoffs when using recycled fiber in coated paper.
eQ Journal 005
Read Rethinking Recycling, an in-depth look at recycling and recycled fiber