It can be very difficult to spot the moment that the tide turns. What has been an incoming rush of water slows and imperceptibly changes to an outgoing tide. As waves vary in size, the precise one that means that high tide is over is almost impossible to identify. But once the tide is running it is impossible to stop it.
For the last few years the tide has been running against recycled papers. They have been considered a luxury choice for all but the most environmentally committed and their use has consequently fallen. Buyers have opted for uncoated papers to achieve a ‘natural’ finish while selecting those with FSC or PEFC certificates to show chain of custody and good forestry management practices.
For many though there has been a nagging message. Recycled papers should be used more. Now with the success of COP21 in Paris at the end of last year and the New York meeting at the end of last month where major businesses signed up to efforts to limit climate change, there may be a change in the tide. Sustainability is back on the corporate agenda and recycled papers can ride on these coat tails.
Recovered fibre is already used extensively in newsprint and in corrugated boards. This will not change, even though the closure of the Aylesford Newsprint mill in Kent has shut off one outlet for recovered paper in the UK. Neither product places huge demands on whiteness and feel of the final product, though this has improved hugely since recovered newsprint for example was first introduced.
Now Denmaur Independent Papers believes that the time is right to push recycled papers. The merchant business acquired the rights to the well established Revive brand from the administrators of Paperlinx towards the end of last year and has looked at what has been needed to establish the brand as a leading name in the UK once again.
It has come to market with a range of papers from 53gsm to 350gsm, with nine papers in four finishes produced by Lenzing, Burgo and Leipa, all established providers of recycled papers. The range covers digital, sheetfed, CutStar reels, web offset and gravure uses, in matt, gloss and silk coated and uncoated treatments and in standard and high white shades.
At its peak, the UK consumed 64,000 tonnes a year of the Revive papers. Since 2008 demand has dived and consumption is currently well behind this. “We would be very happy to come close to 64,000 tonnes,” says Denmaur commercial director Nick Gee.
It is a big ask. Government policy had been to insist on the use of recycled papers across government departments. It was the single most effective driver of demand for recycled papers, spilling out from central government into regional and local government.
However, changes brought about by the OGC and the drive for savings across the board watered down the policy. It is no longer mandatory to specify and use recycled papers.
Where government leads others have followed. Steve Wicks, managing director of the Greenprint consultancy, has found demand is at best static. “Certain customers like to be seen to be green and are happy to pay the premium. Most want the best price,” he says.
“Recycled papers are without doubt a vital part of print’s green credentials and the quality of most recycled papers is now so much better than it was in the early days when you had to issue a warning that printing would be of a lower quality due to the shade and imperfections of the surface.”
That is no longer an issue. It can be very difficult to distinguish between a virgin pulp product and a recycled one, something which ironically can count against recycled paper because it no longer looks as if it is made from recovered fibre.
Certainly the Revive papers offer a similar performance to virgin pulp papers. Others share these characteristics. ArjoWiggins Graphic is specialising in these grades, sold through sister company Antalis.
Julian Long, national key account manager of ArjoWiggins Graphic, says: “Today’s high white recycled papers are completely comparable in appearance and performance to virgin fibre products so there is no compromise whatsoever by using recycled products.”
Those in the Revive range cover lightweight papers for gravure and web offset printing. Customers like the National Trust have used these papers and other charities are natural candidates for using these. There are the standard sheetfed products up to 350gsm for greetings cards.
The customers are likely to be those companies looking for a strong environmental message, energy companies, financial institutions and banks. Many of these businesses will have made environmental claims in corporate social responsibility statements about adopting sustainability policies.
This provides an entry point, says Jonathan Tame of CarbonCo. When a procurement manager rebuffs a pitch involving recycled papers because of the cost, a smart salesman may point to the public statement and wonder aloud whether the company’s CEO would endorse an action running counter to this stated policy.
There is a growing number of companies in this position. The growing awareness that climate change is happening, most likely as the result of human activity. Consequently only human activity can cap the average temperature rise to below the 1.5% deemed crucial to preventing run away global warming.
Forum for the Future founder Jonathon Porritt spoke at the launch of the Revive brand about the impact of the COP21 agreement between governments that are signatories to the deal. The opportunity to achieve what is required lies in alternative low carbon energy generation. “Last year $329 billion was invested in clean energy technologies. We need to invest $1 trillion a year within the next five years,” he said.
“There is a political will to do more.” Countries like China, previously unwilling participants, are now committed to a low carbon economy. It becomes so important that the costs of generating carbon will be more than $50 a tonne by 2030 he said. This will work through to a corporate’s P&L and therefore be something that financial directors will need to tackle. They will be looking for low carbon solutions, and the purchase of print and paper will form part of that.
Recycled paper scores well. It requires less energy and less water to produce, particularly if fibre is recovered from areas surrounding a pulp mill. One key problem is that there are not enough mills producing the quality of pulp needed for quality papers. The use of post consumer waste for newsprint or corrugated boards skips a number of lives that that fibre might have had. In recycling terms this is a waste of resource.
ArjoWiggins has invested in recycling facilities in France for its own requirements and to sell on the open market. Likewise Leipa has invested in recycling operations to produce pulp for its own needs. A mill in the French Alps is being restored to produce pulp for the open market, and while this will help reduce the price of recycled papers, more will be needed for recycled paper to break into the mainstream.
For Long the environmental benefit of recycled paper is clear: “The environmental impact of the manufacturing process and the upstream and downstream transportation must be a target for continuous improvement. This means reducing the impact on nature of the process itself and the transport elements.
“The biggest impact can be achieved by recycling. This significantly reduces the demand for wood fibre, the consumption of water and energy, the release of greenhouse gases, diverts waste from landfill and the fibre sources can be obtained more locally,” he says.
New production methods are also going to have an impact in reducing the carbon footprint of paper. As part of a project to investigate ways to reduce the carbon impact of paper, Cepi funded the Two Team Project to devise new ways of producing paper. This has led to a pilot project using new types of organic solvent to separate the elements that make up wood fibre into the components useful for producing paper.
If successful the approach might save 40% of the energy intensity needed in pulp and paper production and 50% of the investment cost. It has the support of research departments and the leading names in the paper industry. The benefits will apply to both virgin and recycled papers.
Other approaches to separating the fibres from the toners and inks used in printing are taking a modern approach, examining the use of enzymes rather than the washing and flotation process currently used. This is eminently suitable for most print, but cannot deal with flexo print on newsprint nor with Indigo print.
An innovative approach is needed because the volume of Indigo print is increasing both as a result of the increasing installed base, but also because the drive to shorter print runs is increasing the importance of digital printing. And there continues to be confusion over the impact of inkjet printing on the recyclability of products produced with these technologies.
The ISO TC150 committee, the graphic arts technical committee, has put together a proposal for a standard that identifies substrates and printing methods and their suitability for recycling so that procurement policy can take account of end of use processing. The paper industry, represented by a separate ISO committee, has yet to welcome the proposal.
That is something for the future. “Globally the demand for recycled papers is growing,” says Long. “Particularly in more developed countries where there are greater concerns for the environment. After a period of stagnation in the UK due to both the financial crisis which led to downgrading and the weakening of the previous resolve by the UK Government to promote recycled papers, demand is now growing.
“This was particularly strong in the second half of 2015 and the start of this year. The applications are varied, ranging from brochures and marketing collateral, transactional documents and packaging to shopping bags.”
This bodes well for Denmaur, marketing director Peter Sommerville says: “We are giving a fresh lease of life to what has been the most successful brand of recycled carbon balanced papers in the UK, possibly in Europe.
“We intend to increase the range, to increase our stock holding and improve the service to support these papers. We are investing because we believe there is a long term future, and a compelling future, for recycled paper.”
The Carbon Balanced element is arranged through CarbonCo which has calculated the carbon impact of making paper and then how much to provide the World Land Trust to secure tropical forests which have value both for biodiversity, often protecting significant under threat species, and as a carbon sink.
Denmaur has promised to bear the cost of the carbon balancing element if not the premium for recycled paper.
Denmaur sustainability manager Danny Doogan says that Revive ticks all the boxes in terms of chain of custody, EU Timber Regulation, avoiding concerns on modern slavery, animal testing, conflict minerals and Reach. “And it is important for CSR carbon reporting,” he says.
The revived Revive family includes 100% recycled papers certified by FSC to be produced from 100% post consumer waste. Likewise the non recycled element of Revive 50 and Revive 75 is produced from FSC pulp.
“The use of recycled paper is a small contribution to action against climate change and it is a big opportunity for the future sustainability of printed media,” says Sommerville.
It has scored an early success with commitment by exhibitions and business media publisher UBM to use Revive for all its media products and for Emap to use Revive as the paper for its Materials Recycling World magazine. Other companies will surely follow.
According to Julia Young, WWF is working with McDonalds to move away from dependence on single-use packaging, indicating that all types of packaging can switch to recycled grades with the adoption of barrier coatings to prevent ingress of residual chemicals that may be in the recycled materials.
The mood for such change is in the air, among corporations, consumers and governments. What business is looking for now is action by central governments to set the agenda and provide the framework that will pave the way to a low carbon economy.
That will surely affect print in all manner of ways. Already in Japan companies that invest must select machinery that consumes less energy than that it replaces. In printing this has fed into adoption of new generation UV printing.
It is also going to push through new ways of making paper and increased use of recycled fibre as part of that. The tide is on the turn.
UK papermaker James Cropper has developed a technology to recycle paper cups used for hot drinks.
Normally the polyethylene coating to prevent the hot liquid destroying the cup before the coffee is drunk renders recycling impossible and unsuited to standard waste streams.
“The resulting fibre can be used in anything from brochures and stationery to designer gift boxes,” says commercial director Chris Brown.
“At the moment, our reclaimed fibre plant contributes around 10% of our total fibre requirement, but no product is made entirely from that fibre source. It’s added in varying percentages across our product mix. However, we do combine this with other sources of recycled fibre to make some of our papers. Our Croxley Heritage range, for example, is made from 100% recycled fibre: 90% post-consumer waste and 10% reclaimed cup fibre.”
The fibre can be used “from fine papers for traditional text and cover applications through to packaging for luxury goods. As the technology continues to be refined, we expect to see more and more reclaimed fibre being processed into a variety of products over the coming years”.