KNOW YOUR PAPER: an environmental guide to paper purchasing and use

If you are responsible for office paper, stationery or corporate communications in your organisation then this article is for you.

Is Paper Bad for the Environment?

In a nutshell – no.

Paper is made from a renewable raw material that can be recycled. It boasts the highest rate of recycling of any material in the UK, and it is potentially sustainable. Demand also encourages responsible forestry and the growth of recycling.

Top Tips for Paper Buyers

 Use paper with post-consumer recycled fibre. Fibre from collected waste paper materials can be reused up to seven times before becoming too worn out to bind together. Using recycled paper also helps promote and support collection and recycling systems.

Recycled paper has improved greatly in quality over the last 25 years, and most are now on par with virgin fibre products. And it’s also not true that recycled always costs more than virgin fibre – especially if you can buy in bigger quantities.

For some paper grades, recycled-based alternatives are hard to find or unavailable. If you can’t find the right recycled paper, then look for a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified alternative.

Most paper in the UK is sold through merchants who will have full environmental data sheets on the paper sold and information about the mills that make it so if you want to find out more just ask as the terminology can sometimes be confusing.

The WWF has a good tool for checking environmental credentials of many papers although not all European produced ones are listed.

Good Practice for Paper Users

Reduce excessive paper consumption by using less, lighter or thinner paper.

If getting something printed think about its after use, to make sure it can be recycled, as treatments and processes like wire-o binding or laminating make the job harder.

Recycle. The paper industry is the UK’s most successful recycler. If you don’t have a policy in place already, then collect all your reusable paper waste for recycling. If you’re a small organisation, think about pooling collections with others. In some cases, if the grade is good enough and you produce enough of it, you will get paid for it!

Benefits to Business for Making the Right Choices

Recycling paper is an easy way to reduce waste disposal costs and, in some instances, raise revenue. It also means you are making a contribution to the much talked about circular economy.

The EU currently informs UK Waste Management policies but even with ‘Brexit’ there are still likely to be challenging targets for UK businesses to meet especially concerning waste going to landfill so be ahead of the game.

A recycling programme and a paper purchasing policy can be included in any Environmental Policy you have or are thinking of starting. Paper purchasing can also be looked at when undertaking any supply chain initiatives.

Using recognised environmental labelling such as FSC on any printed communications helps ensure public recognition of your corporate, social and environmental policies.


When asked to answer the question what type of paper is best virgin fibre or recycled I would say on balance using recycled paper is better as it uses less energy to make and makes best use of trees by using the fibre over and over again. However we still need a balance of virgin fibre paper made from well managed forests to keep the loop going.

About the Author

Lee Sargent has worked in the publishing and print industry since 1999. He joined Calverts, a design, print and communications co-operative in July 2007 and has been Environmental Manager since 2011 overseeing the company’s environmental management system, which is certified to the ISO 14001 standard. He helps and advises clients on all issues relating to sustainable process and material choices, recycling and resource efficiency and takes a close interest in all aspects to do with the circular economy and cradle to cradle design and manufacturing.

Calverts has been a Heart of the City member since 2016.

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