Synthesis/Regeneration 10   (Spring 1996)

Paper Consumption and Recycling Ordinances

by Tim Keating, Director, Rainforest Relief

#Sample Municipal Ordinance on Reduction and Recycled Content of Paper

Recently some environmentalists have begun to push for the use of "alternative" fiber papers, specifically, those made from kenaf and hemp. While this strategy may have a place in educating the public that paper does not need to be made from trees, it should not be seen as having any substantial immediate impact on reduction of use of forests. This strategy may have little effect over the long term, if any at all.

Switching to annual crops in no way addresses a reduction in consumption, only in the use of trees. This, if achieved, would of course, be significant. It is time that we face the truth: our level of consumption is the problem. Switching to annual crops for paper is simply a big band-aid. Isn't it typically American to think of growing a special crop to produce paper, rather than using our already existing waste stream? Unless we change the numbers projecting increased use of paper, we may win a quick battle to reduce wood consumption, but we will soon lose the war for the forests.

Isn't it typically American to think of growing a special crop to produce paper, rather than using our already existing waste stream?

Switching to annual crops does nothing to reduce landfilling, to reduce the need for incineration, nothing to increase the infrastructure for recycling, nothing to help local communities increase available jobs, nothing to decrease urban dependence on trucked-in materials, and does no more than recycling to reduce the use of bleaching, water and energy. Each of the benefits attributed to kenaf can also be attributed to waste paper. Recycling conserves energy, saves water, reduces pollution (since it needs less bleaching and chemical treating than virgin pulp), and promotes jobs in rural, suburban and urban areas (new jobs from kenaf would be limited to growing the fiber). Recycling paper does indeed save landfill space, something which "alternative" fiber papers do not. Recycling paper eliminates the incentive to incinerate, since paper is the main component of our waste stream from which energy can be derived. Alternative fiber paper does not remove this incentive. And both kenaf paper and 100% post-consumer paper save exactly the same number of trees, since no trees were cut to produce either.

Annual crops such as kenaf and hemp must still be grown and harvested, taking up agricultural land that could be used to grow food. Forest clearing for eucalyptus, gmelina, radiata pine and alder is rampant in the tropics, as well as the US. Plantations (also called tree farms, or "second-growth") in the US are currently mostly for timber but this is changing rapidly as the paper industry increases its fiber demands. It will be a major problem in the future if the focus is merely to "use something else." Overconsumption of anything eventually leads to the same place: a clearcut world.

Instead of simply switching to annual crops, better strategies are an all-out war against production from virgin forest sources; and a corresponding "war effort" toward reduction and recycling. If these are to succeed, it means that Americans must use less. It also means that everything Americans do use must be used again. Reduction, recycling and direct action to reduce the cut should be the most visible strategies in this war for the forests.

Municipal ordinances, state and federal legislation to mandate reduction and use of recycled content would be much more effective in the immediate future, and have a far greater impact on reducing wood consumption than resolutions to use a different fiber. These are not as glamorous, and perhaps, therefore, not as attractive to the environmental "movement" at large. But it is time that this "movement" become a movement and take on a strategy that puts effectiveness above glamour and saving the forests above the next fundraising round.

Currently, annual-crop-fiber papers are financially way beyond the reach of almost all municipalities. The cost factor alone would make a campaign of municipal ordinances for kenaf unachievable. For instance, New Jersey's governor recently passed income tax reduction bills, necessitating that the state reduce its contribution to municipalities. This means that the municipalities have had to raise local property taxes and cut spending. To ask a municipality to switch to paper that is quadruple the price of what they currently use would be humorous. Even if the paper cost only 25% more, it would be near to impossible. The reality is that even this lower price differential is years away.

The real question is: why are we so inclined to jump on the kenaf campaign but cry the blues because 100% post consumer paper is "too expensive?" We have been duped by false claims of "ecological soundness." Paper derived solely from waste is no more damaging to a the trees than that made from kenaf. If we consider the long-term implications of a recycled economy, recycled paper, at least for now, may be the most "tree-friendly" alternative we have.

Paper made from 50% post consumer waste is now within reach of large purchasers. This will quickly change for the better as recycled content is incorporated into more mills. By '96, many more de-inking facilities will have come on line to produce recycled pulp. Unfortunately, the drive to use recycled fiber has waned since 1990, and it is conceivable that unless something is done to renew this demand, the investments into recycling by the industry will again slow. We must not let this happen.

Newspapers were a first target of recycled content laws. Out of fear of legislation, many papers adopted voluntary recycled content standards to forestall the laws, but some states passed them anyway. We must revisit this strategy. The next step is to get newspapers to incorporate bagasse (sugar cane stalks) and other agricultural waste content. The US produces enough agricultural waste to supply our entire paper industry. Fibers such as bagasse or cereal straw each produce more paper worldwide than kenaf and hemp combined. Others have recognized that it makes economic sense to use agricultural waste for paper rather than burning it, like we do.

The time is right now for us to step behind those that have laid the foundation for recycling and to campaign for reduction and increased use of wastepaper. Only then will our promotion of non-wood fibers make sense in the big picture and have any lasting and substantial impact on saving forests.

For an expanded version of this article, or for more information on the advantages of using recycled paper and agricultural wastes over growing annual crops, contact Rainforest Relief at P.O. Box 281; Red Bank, NJ 07701, 908/842-6030; email

Sample Municipal Ordinance
on Reduction and Recycled Content of Paper

WHEREAS, the loss of the world's forests is a critical problem that threatens all humanity, future generations and all life on Earth;

WHEREAS, loss of forests contributes to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, thus possibly leading to global warming, threatening human agricultural systems, coastal cities, ecosystem balances and loss of species;

WHEREAS, loss of forests threatens to bring to extinction half of all life forms on Earth;

WHEREAS, forests are a substantial source of global oxygen production;

WHEREAS, loss of forests in the Northwest US and Western Canada silts and heats rivers thus destroying salmon and other fish populations, leading to losses in the welfare and viability of local fishing and tourism industries;

WHEREAS, half of the volume of forests cut in the US and Canada goes to making paper;

WHEREAS, reuse of wastepaper and use of agricultural wastes increases local independence, creates jobs, supports local farmers, decreases the waste stream thus decreasing landfilling and eliminating the need for incineration, and leads to local patterns of production and consumption thus reducing transportation costs and use of fossil fuels;

WHEREAS, reuse of wastepaper and use of agricultural wastes for paper reduces the need for bleaching, thus reducing chlorine pollution;

WHEREAS, reuse of wastepaper substantially reduces the need for water for the wood pulping process;

WHEREAS, reduction in paper use will save substantial capital resources thus reducing the burden on the taxpayer,

BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED that the city of _______________ will decrease its consumption of paper [in pounds per city resident] from 1995 levels by a minimum of 5% per year for 10 years, and thereafter, remain at that level. The city will adopt efficiency and reduction measures to achieve these goals.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the city will increase its use of recycled paper by a minimum of 5% [post consumer] of content per year for two years, 10% for one year, 20% for one year and 40% for one year reaching 80% post-consumer content in five years. These goals must be achieved if such papers are available for less than or equal to a 20% higher cost over the current market cost of 100% virgin paper . If higher post-consumer content paper is available to the city for less than or equal to 20% above virgin paper, the city will use such paper as soon as it is available. The city will explore buying co-ops and other mechanisms to achieve these goals.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the city will seek to increase the content of agricultural waste fiber in the paper it purchases by a minimum of 5% in four years and 5% per year until 20% of content is achieved. The city will announce its intent to large paper manufacturers and encourage the production of papers with agricultural waste fiber content. The city will further encourage the production of this paper by creating incentives to businesses that either transport, or otherwise treat, agricultural wastes for paper production or produce such paper. These incentives may include reduced taxes, grants or low-interest loans.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the city will encourage the adoption of similar measures by businesses located within the city limits.

Addendum 1
The city will immediately seek to end the purchase of disposable paper products such as cups, napkins and plates and encourage employees to use reusables in the workplace. The city will encourage two-sided copying throughout its offices, seek to upgrade copiers to those that copy two-sided and encourage use of used paper for drafts and internal memos.

Until a transition to reusables is made, the city will immediately seek to purchase products that contain higher post-consumer fiber levels than stated goals in certain paper products. Post-consumer content of 100% is readily available for the following products at little or no additional cost: Paper towels, bathroom tissue, paper napkins.

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