Article for Company and Trade Association Newsletters

Part of this article was adapted from "Buy Recycled Paper," a fact sheet published by the Recycled Paper Coalition, the Buy Recycled Business Alliance, Conservatree, and the Alameda County Waste Management Authority and Recycling Board

Buy Recycled Paper, and Save Trees, Energy

Did you know that more than 90 percent of the printing and writing paper made in this country is still made from trees instead of recycled paper? Every ton of recycled paper substituted for non-recycled paper saves 17 trees and a significant amount of energy, water, and air pollution.

Make the switch to recycled paper. Buying recycled paper is a simple and convenient way your organization can help the environment - and join the many major organizations worldwide that are adopting environmentally sound procurement practices.

"Our senior management realized the environment is a strategic business issue that is here to stay," remarked Candace Skarlatos, Senior Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Bank of America. "With the recent merger, Bank of America made a commitment to use recycled paper, set a baseline for the new merged company, and agreed to report progress annually." In the first year of the merger, the bank converted 40% of their paper use to recycled.

Who is Required to Use Recycled Paper?
Businesses performing federal contracts are required to use recycled paper, and may be required to do so for other government contracts. Some state courts (such as California) require documents to be printed on recycled paper. Many businesses not required to buy recycled paper nevertheless have developed policies to do so, as part of their environmental and community responsibility.

The federal government requires its purchasers to buy recycled paper. It also requires contractors who pay more than $10,000 in a year for paper to buy recycled for the portion that is used to fulfill government contracts.

Some state and local governments require their purchasers to buy only recycled paper. Others allow a price preference (a pricing leeway, usually about 10%) for recycled paper and/or have legislative goals for a percentage of their paper purchases to qualify as recycled content. All 50 states have some type of legislation or executive order encouraging the purchase of recycled paper and/or products. Many state and local governments also require contractors to use recycled paper for government work.

What About Quality?
In the 1980s, recycled paper was often of uneven quality, sometimes appearing tan, gray, or spotted. But today recycled paper is widely available in all colors, including the brightest whites, and meets the highest technical standards, sometimes even exceeding comparable non-recycled papers.

In 1998, the U.S. Conference of Mayors conducted a study with leading equipment manufacturers and the Government Printing Office. Over 2 million sheets were tested for paper feeding, reliability, image quality, toner fixability, smoothness, curl, and other aspects. Results proved that recycled papers with 30% post-consumer content performed just as well as non-recycled papers.

Commercial printers and copy machine manufacturers today agree that recycled paper is suitable for all their machines. They only require good quality paper, whether recycled or not.

Aren't Recycled Papers More Expensive?
In the past, recycled papers often cost considerably more than non-recycled papers. Today, many grades such as text and cover and some coated papers are cost-competitive with non-recycled papers or even cost less. Copier and offset papers still tend to cost somewhat more, but the price differentials are smaller than ever, usually only a few percent. Over time, price differentials may continue to diminish as the market for recycled paper expands and matures.

How Can a Buyer Justify Higher Recycled Paper Costs, When They Exist?
Recognizing that recycled paper's benefits are far greater than simply dollars, many organizations allow a price preference - usually 10 percent. Several studies have confirmed that price preferences do not increase paper budgets to the preference limit. Even 10% price preference policies generally yield paper price increases of no more than 2-3% overall. However, some recycled papers need the entire preference while others are less expensive than non-recycled. Price preferences allow buyers the purchasing room to choose recycled papers even when some grades may be slightly higher-priced than their non-recycled paper alternatives.

Another way to offset costs is to use lighter weight paper, which often meets the organization's needs as well as heavier paper. Other ideas for offsetting costs include aggressively reducing paper waste, and applying the paper budget savings to buy recycled paper even when it is more expensive. You can also use revenue generated from paper recycling to pay for recycled paper, as well as savings generated from avoided disposal costs.

Put price differentials in perspective. How much is the actual price difference compared to the total project cost, or total budget, or other expenses? Can you offset higher-priced recycled paper purchases with savings from other types of recycled papers that are less expensive?

Take the long view. Paper markets are cyclical and highly dynamic. Sometimes all paper prices are high, other times low. Sometimes market factors affect recycled and non-recycled papers differently and cause temporary price differences. Experienced paper buyers realize that prices continue to vacillate. Here's What You Can Do:

  • Specify at least "30% post-consumer recycled" when ordering any paper product, including printing and copy paper, envelopes, post-it notes, adding machine tape, forms, business cards, checks, letters, file folders, tablets, note pads, index cards, letterhead - even toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins. Buy the highest post-consumer content you can, balanced against your budget and functional needs.

  • Request recycled paper on all print jobs, label all printed materials with "Printed on Recycled Paper", and specify recycled paper use in all contracts.

  • For more information, including bid and contracting procedures, refer to Resourceful Purchasing: A Hands-On Buyers' Manual with How-To-Do-It Guidance for Source Reduction and Recycled Products (published by the Alameda Waste Management Authority), available through

For assistance and more information visit the Bay Area Recycled Paper Outreach Campaign website at