Beyond Recycled Paper

Beyond Recycled Paper: 5 (Other) Tips for Sustainable Print         

We all want to be friendly to the earth, but what is the best strategy for doing so? Often, our first thought is to use recycled paper, and this is an important step. Yet there are other ways to make earth-friendly decisions when designing and ordering print materials. Let’s look at five simple ways beyond recycled paper to make your print more sustainable.

  1. Spec paper with virgin fiber. While this might seem counter-intuitive, virgin fiber is an important aspect of the sustainable print lifecycle. Sixty percent of forests in the United States are privately owned. Demand for pulp-based products keeps our forests a viable source of income for forest owners, making them a valuable asset. If private forests don’t provide revenue, they risk being sold for other revenue-generating opportunities. Virgin fiber is also a vital component of the recycling stream. Paper fibers can only be recycled five to seven times before they are no longer usable. To maintain a strong, high-quality pool of recycled paper, virgin fiber must be flowing into the system.
  1. Look for environmental certifications. When purchasing any type of paper, whether with virgin fiber, recycled fiber, or both, look for paper that has been certified by environmental organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). While each certification is slightly different, all signify that the paper you purchase is coming from sustainably managed forests and is harvested in ethical and ecologically sound ways.
  2. Ask for environmentally friendly inks and coatings. While solvent-based inks and coatings have many benefits, including extremely high scuff-resistance, their use in the print production process emits toxic fumes, and the resulting products cannot be recycled. Water-based inks and coatings, on the other hand, have high performance qualities and do not emit toxic VOCs. Many coatings allow the paper to be repulped and recycled, as well.
  3. Avoid lamination. If you’re specing packaging, try to avoid designs that require lamination. Once plastic film is laminated to paper, that paper becomes much more difficult for mills to depulp and reuse.
  4. Clean and de-dupe your mailing list. Nothing says “waste” like undeliverable mail. For the lowest environmental footprint, keep your mailing list accurate, up to date, and free of duplicates.


Any one of these steps will improve the sustainability of your print projects. Do all five and you’re a sustainability hero!

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Eco-Friendly Printing Practices at J.S. McCarthy