The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 17, Number 5
Oct 1993

Clinton Mandates Recycled Paper in Executive Branch, Circumvents Permanence Standards

by Ellen McCrady

The long-expected executive order from President Clinton, requiring the use of recycled paper by the executive agencies of the federal government, including the Government Printing Office, has finally appeared. It is entitled "Executive Order 12873 of October 20, 1993: Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention."

It does not refer anywhere to permanence considerations or to Public Law 101-423, "Joint Resolution to Establish a National Policy on Permanent Papers" (printed in this newsletter December 1990), which says, in part, "It is the policy of the United States that Federal records, books, and publications of enduring value be produced on acid free permanent papers. . . . The Congress of the United States urgently recommends that. . . federal agencies require the use of archival quality acid free papers for permanently valuable Federal records and confer with the National Archives and Records Administration on the requirements for paper quality. . . ."

There is nothing wrong with requiring government agencies to use recycled paper. Neither is there anything wrong with recycled paper per se, which can be made to meet permanence standards. But there are several things wrong with this executive order.

First, because it is written to be easily enforceable, and does not explicitly mention permanence, government agencies will find it far easier to heed than the permanent paper law, which has no enforcement provisions. Second, many people (including many government employees) are confused about recycled and permanent paper. Either they think the terms are mutually exclusive or they do not know how to find papers that meet both sets of criteria, particularly since permanent papers are not advertised and labeled as such.

Third, and most disturbing of all, this order contains language (Sec. 505) that authorizes and encourages the General Services Administration (GSA) to disregard permanence standards if it decides that a) permanence is not an aspect of "performance," b) resistance to yellowing is not necessary, or c) fiber quality (freedom from lignin and mechanical pulp) is not important. This would deny the basis of paper permanence standards, which is that a paper's ability to last a long time is an aspect of performance; and it would violate the specifications of paper permanence as they now exist. Three important standards-setting bodies (ISO, ANSI and ASTM) approved paper permanence standards in 1993 that limit lignin content, because of its effect on brightness and strength. Their recommendations cannot be casually dismissed.

The executive order requires all printing and writing papers to contain 20% postconsumer waste by December 31, 1994, and to contain 30% by December 31, 1998.

The order actually says the 20% and 30% levels must be reached beginning December 31, 1994 (and 1998), but there is no penalty for starting earlier, and the Government Printing Office has confirmed that it is already inviting bids on paper with 20% post-consumer waste. Furthermore, all agencies "making solicitations" (inviting bids) for printing and writing paper are directed by this order to start using recycled paper with postconsumer content, effective immediately (Section 504(3)).

This order is a serious setback for advocates of permanent paper, and it illustrates how one branch of government may work at cross purposes with another. Congress, for example, has been trying to cope with the last century and a half of acid wood pulp paper production, now gone brittle in our libraries and archives. The only way to keep books from going brittle, if they are not on permanent paper to start with (besides putting them in deep freeze) is to deacidify them; Congress has spent millions of dollars on a deacidification program for the Library of Congress. (Fortunately, the modern practice of using calcium carbonate as a filler has about the same effect as deacidification. No one knows, however, whether calcium carbonate is a cure-all for poorly made paper, because the necessary research has not been done. We do know that carbonate-filled paper is still vulnerable to oxidation, though the carbonate does protect it against hydrolysis. We also know that high levels of any filler weaken paper, and that a reasonable strength is one of the requirements of permanent paper.)

Brittle books have to be microfilmed; Congress is now footing much of the bill for the massive microfilming pro gram underway in American research libraries. Because of its involvement with microfilming and deacidification, Congress is aware of the cost of short-lived paper. If the White House is also aware of the cost of impermanent paper, that awareness is not reflected in this document.

If the agency publishers are able to establish performance standards that include permanence considerations, at least for their most important documents with long-term value, there may be no cause for concern. The GPO has a helpful list for identifying important documents, compiled on the basis of a survey of Federal Depository Libraries, and mailed to printing and publishing officials in government agencies. Document types are listed in order of priority for long-term preservation. (That list was published in the Abbey Newsletter, Feb. 1991, p. 9.) Briefly, the eight most important document types, in descending priority order, were: legal materials, monographs, statistics, journals & newspapers, catalogs and other such lists, maps, reports and proceedings. All these types of publications were nominated by 50% or more of the respondents.

Excerpts from the executive order follow, without elipses. It was published in the Federal Register, October 22, 1993, pp. 54911-19. It can also be retrieved electronically from the Library of Congress's LC Marvel Gopher, by making the following selections in sequence from the main menu:

I, William J. Clinton, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Solid Waste Disposal Act, Public Law 89-272, 79 Stat. 997, as amended by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA"), Public Law 94-580, 90 Stat. 2795 as amended (42 U.S.C. 6901-6907), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, hereby order as follows:


Sec. 103. This order creates a Federal Environmental Executive and establishes high-level Environmental Executive positions within each agency to be responsible for expediting the implementation of this order and statutes that pertain to this order.


Sec. 402. Affirmative Procurement Programs. EPA, in consultation with such other Federal agencies as appropriate, shall endeavor to maximize environmental benefits, consistent with price, performance and availability considerations, and shall adjust bid solicitation guidelines as necessary in order to accomplish this goal.

(b) For the currently designated EPA guideline items, which are: (i) concrete and cement containing fly ash; (ii) recycled paper products; (iii) re-refined lubricating oil; (iv) retread tires; and (v) insulation containing recovered materials; and for all future guideline items, agencies shall ensure that their affirmative procurement programs require that 100 percent of their purchases of products meet or exceed the EPA guideline standards unless written justification is provided that a product is not available competitively within a reasonable time frame, does not meet appropriate performance standards, or is only available at an unreasonable price.

(d) Agency affirmative procurement programs, to the maximum extent practicable, shall encourage that:

(1) documents be transferred electronically,

(2) all government documents printed internally be printed double-sided, and

(3) contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements issued after the effective date of this order include provisions that require documents to be printed double-sided on recycled paper meeting or exceeding the standards established in this order or in future EPA guidelines.


Sec. 504. Minimum Content Standard for Printing and Writing Paper

(a) For high speed copier paper, offset paper, forms bond, computer printout paper, carbonless paper, file folders, and white woven [sic] envelopes, the minimum content standard shall be no less than 20 percent postconsumer materials beginning December 31, 1994. This minimum content stan dard shall be increased to 30 percent beginning on December 3, 1998.

(b) For other uncoated printing and writing paper, such as writing and office paper, book paper, cotton fiber paper, and cover stock, the minimum content standard shall be 50 percent recovered materials, including 20 percent postconsumer materials beginning on December 31, 1994. This standard shall be increased to 30 percent beginning on December 31, 1998.

(c) As an alternative to meeting the standards in sections 504(a) and (b), for all printing and writing papers, the minimum content standard shall be no less than 50 percent recovered materials that are a waste material byproduct of a finished product other than a paper or textile product which would otherwise be disposed of in a landfill, as determined by the State in which the facility is located.

(1) The decision not to procure recycled content printing and writing paper meeting the standards specified in this section shall be based solely on a determination by the contracting officer that a satisfactory level of competition does not exist, that the items are not available within a reasonable time period, or that the available items fail to meet reasonable performance standards established by the agency or are only available at an unreasonable price.

(3) Effective immediately, all agencies making solicitations for the purchase of printing and writing paper shall seek bids for paper with postconsumer material or recovered waste material as described insection 504(c).

Sec. 505. Revision of Brightness Specifications and Standards. The General Services Administration and other Federal agencies are directed to identify, evaluate and revise or eliminate any standards or specifications unrelated to performance that present barriers to the purchase of paper or paper products made by production processes that minimize emissions of harmful by-products. This evaluation shall include a review of unnecessary brightness and stock clause provisions, such as lignin content and chemical pulp requirements. The GSA shall complete the review and revision of such specifications within six months after the effective date of this order, and shall consult closely with the Joint Committee on Printing during such process. The GSA shall also compile any information or market studies that may be necessary to accomplish the objectives of this provision. (Condensed from Alkaline Paper Advocate, v.6 #4, Oct. 1993)

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