Following the science when recycling fibre in North America

We’ve learned that what’s in your paper is only part of the picture. Responsible sourcing of materials is critical, and we must also consider the environmental impacts of manufacturing—including the impacts associated with processing recovered paper.

Recycling paper is a circular way to reduce our environmental footprint—but how we put paper fibre to its best next use is not a simple one-size-fits-all solution. For decades, recycled content has been 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 fibre 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 need to be responsible and follow the science and put recovered fibre to its best use. 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.” As an example, our own cradle to gate analysis has shown that adding 10% post-consumer recycled fibre to products made at our Somerset Mill increased the carbon footprint by 16%.  

Another system effect is that post-consumer recycled fibre cleanliness requirements cause more energy consumption, more cleaning chemicals and generates more waste than if post-consumer waste is used for other applications such as tissue, towel and brown Kraft paper and paperboard.  

The EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guideline Program’s definition of recovered fibre includes both post-consumer fibre and post-industrial fibre including manufacturing scrap from paper converting operations. In 2018, Sappi adopted a definition of recycled fibre that is consistent with the EPA’s definition, which includes converting scrap generated after the paper-making process.

Sappi’s processes and recycled fibre sources are verified by a third-party auditing firm (Bureau Veritas) as compliant with SFI® and PEFC requirements (PEFC/29-31-10). Our McCoy, Opus and Flo Sheets grades come with a standard offering of 10% recycled fibre content. Web grades (including Opus, Somerset and Flo) are also available with 10% recycled fibre upon request. Since the SFI Standard follows the EPA definition, we use the SFI label for grades with recycled content.