GreenTech LogoNonprofit offices use significant quantities of both office paper and janitorial paper. Both are now readily available with 30% or 100% recycled content. The cost of recycled paper is becoming increasingly competitive with conventional virgin fiber paper, which mostly comes from trees. Recycled office paper is still 10% to 25% more expensive than conventional paper, but the cost of recycled janitorial paper is narrowing rapidly.

The economic case for buying recycled content paper is pretty simple. The more we buy recycled content paper, the more mainstream the market for it becomes, which tends to lower the price for it. According to the Worldwatch Institute, more than 90% of the printing and writing paper made in the U.S. is still made from virgin tree fiber.

Of course it’s better to buy 100% recycled paper than 30% recycled paper, but an incremental improvement is better than no improvement. Find the number of trees you can save by buying recycled content office paper with the online Recycled Products Cooperative environmental calculator. I also like nonprofit Conservatree’s “Common Myths About Recycled Paper”

Here are some tips for buying recycled paper.
  • It’s much better for the environment if you can buy paper products that are bleached without chlorine or chlorine compounds. This dramatically reduces pollution in the manufacturing process. Choose paper products that are labeled "unbleached," "bleached without chlorine or chlorine derivatives," or "processed chlorine-free."
  • It’s cheaper to buy recycled paper products in bulk. Many vendors allow you to buy a pallet of paper (40 cases or 400 reams), and then store it for you and deliver it at no charge over the course of several months.
  • When buying in bulk, it’s useful to get competitive price quotes. Vendors often match a competitor’s lower price, regardless of what is on their price list. Office paper is easy to get at office stores like Staples and Office Depot, but the vendors for office and janitorial paper are most often different.
  • Conservatree maintains lists of environmentally preferable janitorial paper products as well as a listing for copy and office machine papers. The U.S. EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines Supplier Database is a searchable database of vendors who sell or distribute recycled-content products.
  • Green Earth Office Supply offers a wide variety of office supplies that are earth-friendly and sustainable. TechSoup has had good service and pricing from a local company, Give Something Back.
  • The Recycled Products Cooperative is a nonprofit organization that uses aggregated volume to increase purchasing power and reduce pricing.
  • The California Department of General Services has a great tip on janitorial paper. People tend to use more folded towels than roll towels. By switching from folded towels to roll towels, you can reduce restroom paper waste by 25% to 35%. Roll towels also require less packaging and storage space. Buying new dispensers is an expense, but they calculate a payback period for this investment of about three years.
Here’s the environmental case for buying recycled paper:
  • Check out some shocking statistics we’ve compiled for our Reduce Paper Use campaign. I particularly like this one: one ton of recycled paper saves 3,700 pounds of lumber and 24,000 gallons of water.
  • Globally, 42% of the industrial wood harvest is devoted to paper production (source: Pulping the South: Industrial Tree Plantations and the World Paper Economy). According to the U.S. EPA, over one third of our landfills are taken up by paper, and landfilled paper in turn produces large volumes of the greenhouse gas methane.
  • According to Conservatree, it takes one tree to make two and a half cases of virgin fiber paper. 100% postconsumer recycled content paper requires no new trees to be cut down.
  • Demand for paper is growing rapidly. Globally, paper consumption has more than tripled over the past 30 years, according to the World Resource Institute.
  • Compared to virgin paper manufacturing, producing paper from recycled material reduces greenhouse gas emissions, requires less energy to produce, decreases air and water pollution, and conserves landfill space.
  • One ton of recycled paper uses 64% less energy, 50% less water, 74% less air pollution, saves 17 trees, and creates five times more jobs than one ton of paper products from virgin wood pulp.