The Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 1, Number 5
Dec 1988

Activists Assemble at TAPPI Symposium 20 1989

About 25 people involved in the promotion of alkaline or permanent paper in one way or another gathered, at the invitation of APA Editor McCrady, for a two-hour meeting just before the TAPPI Paper Preservation Symposium in Washington, DC, Oct. 19-21. Another 25 (some of whom were also key players) found seats around the edge of the small room. The session was professionally recorded and transcribed, thanks to Barbara Goldsmith, who made it possible. Passages from the transcription are grouped by subject below.

[The two-day TAPPI symposium that followed this meeting cannot be reported yet because the tapes did not reach the APA office until about 10 days before press time. The discussion periods were so important that no report would be complete without them, and it takes a long time to transcribe and study those tapes. -Ed.]

Nature of the Meeting

Ellen McCrady: This is an ad hoc meeting, to explore ways of encouraging the production and use of alkaline paper, which meets one of the most important criteria for permanence. The people sitting at the table make up a panel from the papermaking, publishing, library, archival, government, conservation, and standards-setting sectors. They include managers, administrators, teachers, suppliers, librarians, and chemists. Most of them are known for their commitment to alkaline or permanent paper and have a record of successful activism in this area. I asked them to meet today to start thinking about a broad strategy, a comprehensive framework within which individual efforts and major projects could be most effective. We also need to think about how to give funding agencies and legislators the background they need for doing something to help.

Goodness knows something ought to be done. Although most American publishers of scholarly books now use alkaline paper, many do not, and most foreign countries lag behind the U.S. in their use of alkaline paper for publications. The great majority of paper records being created today and destined for tomorrow's archives are on acidic paper. Consumers get very little guidance in their search for alkaline paper, and they rarely have any method of telling whether a given alkaline paper meets the other criteria for permanence.

This group obviously cannot do anything comprehensive like formulate a strategy in the time we have, but we can learn what other people are doing, meet new allies, and propose projects.

The Government's Role: The GPO and JCP

Faye Padgett: I'm with the Joint Committee on Printing, which is a congressional committee. By law we set the paper standards for the printing and writing paper that's used by the federal government. My purpose in being here is to tell you that the Congress is very much ware of the problem of preserving paper. Undoubtedly, you all know that recently the Joint Committee [Joint Committee on Printing, JCP] issued an interim specification for uncoated permanent paper. I have a few co pies and I'll be happy to share with you.

Basically, we've put the specification, which was modelled on the ANSI standard but has additional requirements, out for cement. So, we'll be interested in what the paper industry has to say about it, and what users feel about it. We're anxious to issue a standard on coated paper as soon as we're in a position to do that.

I think all of you have a very important job to try to encourage federal agencies to take advantage of this opportunity to preserve publications of enduring value, as Senator Pell in his resolution, which was circulated here today. We think that we've begun the job by identifying an uncoated permanent paper standard for federal publishers to use. As a matter of fact, to set the example, the Congress is using this standard in the next couple of months when it publishes the Biographical Directory of the American Congress. So we're using our own standard and we hope other people will too.

I'm certain that the chairman of the Joint Committee on Printing will be sending a letter out to all of the government agencies, making known the fact that we do have a new standard for uncoated permanent paper and encouraging agencies to use it. We can't make them do it, but we can certainly do more than we have in the past to let them know that we have such a standard.

One person here in the room that I'd like to introduce to you and whose name you may have heard before, is Sylvia Subt, Chief of Paper and Physical Testing at the Government Printing Office [GPO]. She is obviously very influential in the development of our standards.

Sylvia Subt: The federal government has been specifying some alkaline paper. It's not just recently, as you can tell by the issuance of the alkaline paper spec. We have been successfully buying some printed jobs on alkaline papers. This has been for about three years, at least. So we hear what is being said, and we're really trying to do it whenever there is a need for it.

Tony Truman: I'm with the Government Printing Office. I an very involved in the library " edition binding. I'm very interested in acid-free paper standards, since we are buying publications that are disintegrating.

Samuel Scaggs: We feel the good news is that alkaline paper generally is more economical for the manufacturer and so I think you'll see the mills going that way voluntarily. As Sylvia pointed out, when we buy paper we don't exclude alkaline paper. We set a minimum pH. We've discovered that we are receiving and using some alkaline paper at the GPO other than those that are specially requested.

Obstacles and Problems Perceived

Terry Norris: If the user wishes to specify alkaline pH paper, it ought not to be at a cost disadvantage except in the area of coated publication papers. It's in that area that the industry faces some product development tasks in the years ahead if we are to convert coated publications to alkaline pH paper.

Bill Wilson: To say a bit about the play of the marketplace, about 15 years ago I did a study of the waste paper area. At that time the paper industry was producing about 70 million tons of paper and paper products annually. Some of this production disappears completely and never is available for recycling. Let us assume that 50 million tons are available for recycling, if it cad be collected. We concluded that if the country were to utilize all of this tonnage, when it appeared on the market as waste paper, we would wreck the economy of the country. So one must go slowly in requiring alkaline paper for all applications where permanence is indicated.

Samuel Scaggs: We do business with about 15,000 printers around the country and the various grades of permanent paper that you're talking about are simply not available to them a, the present time. It's not to say we shouldn't have a goal and try to achieve the goal, but in our view we have a long way to go before the necessary grades of paper will be of a permanent character.

Rolland Aubey: It has only been recently that there has been much interest from customers in permanent papers. I sit on a "hot line" with customers calling in asking what kinds of papers to use in this or that applications. I don't remember more than two or three inquiries in the last several years for alkaline sized papers. These inquiries are coming from paper merchants who are responding to customers. It should be pointed out that my interest is in the writing and uncoated printing paper market, not necessarily associated with book publishing. From what we hear, however, book publishers are not particularly conscious of the need for permanent papers using alkaline sizing technology, so it would appear that you people have your work cut out for you.

Carolyn Morrow: At the moment I am chairing the committee of NISO to produce a standard for durable hardcover binding for books. In that standard we're including things such as the method of binding, the paper used, the grain direction and the binding margin. What the publishers on that committee are telling us is that it's a completely bottom line issue. Yes, they're willing to consider alkaline paper, but since they are all publishing in short runs because of changes in the tax laws and so forth, if that need for a second run comes-around and the alkaline paper isn't there, they don't necessarily want to have that compliance symbol on their printing plates and lock them into alkaline paper.

Faye Padgett: GPO does have a big laboratory for testing paper. The Joint Committee has asked GPO--has asked Sylvia, particularly, who is the head of the testing division--to get as many samples as she can of paper from manufacturers to see what ones meet the new Joint Committee A270 standard. Sylvia tells me that she has tested thus far about 24 paper samples. Only about half a dozen meet the ANSI standard and/or our standard.... NISO put out a list of permanent paper manufacturers and I asked GPO to call those paper manufacturers and get samples of papers that met the NISO standards.... Some of those paper, Sylvia tells me, were not alkaline.

Sylvia Subt: We're talking about alkaline paper and 20% calcium carbonate and inorganics. What we've also observed is that the initial strength of the paper seem to be decreasing....

New Challenges

Raj Kumar: I work for the United States Postal Service as a chemist. I am curious whether we can print stamps on permanent paper. We print about 40 billion stamps in a year, and we collect about $180 million a year from stamp collectors. From the stamp collectors' point of view, it would be advisable to print stamps on permanent paper. That's the reason I am here this afternoon.

Joe Brown: Although we are winning the battle on alkaline papermaking and sizing, we are seeing more groundwood, mechanical and high yield pulp being used. If we're concerned about preserving a wide variety of printed materials, and I think we all are, it doesn't look very encouraging.

Jan Merrill-Oldham: I hope, then, at the same time, we can be doing everything possible in the way of research and development to see how permanent groundwood papers can be made.

Sylvia Subt: When we talk about alkaline papers, is there an upper limit to alkalinity? I hope some of the papermakers here might be able to answer this. [Ron Westwood: The highest I've ever seen is about nine. Most alkaline paper manufacturers accept the natural buffered pH that calcium carbonate produces, which is about pH 7.5 to 8.0.] I'm asking this because at the Government Printing Office we test all the paper that the GPO buys and we spot check papers that they're using on the commercial printing contracts. I see pHs from seven all the way up to ten and a half. I have a problem with that. Are we really getting a permanent paper if it's up as high as ten?

Alkaline Papermaking

Ellsworth Shriver: It's very fortunate, I think, for the library community that the trend toward alkaline paper is driven by economics. There is nobody out there in the paper industry that's trying to save any books. There are no altruistic paper makers that I know of. The economic motive driving them is that alkaline paper can be made cheaper.

The other thing that's going on is very interesting. One of the big problems in the library is periodicals. I learned this from Charles Kalina. Most of them are printed on number four publication grade, which is approximately 50 percent groundwood, acid sized. Now what you have to do in this kid of situation is upgrade to number three publication, which will cost you about ten percent more for paper. But you're riot out of the woods yet because the definition of number three is such that it can contain up to ten percent groundwood and that's a no-no. Groundwood and acid are the two things that you'd have to avoid.

But now there's another trend that's running in favor of the library community. That's the postage rates for magazines. There is a tremendous pressure to lower the basis weight of the publication paper. I happened to measure the basis weight of a publication put out by the American Chemical Society called Chemical and Engineering News. Thirty-three pounds per 3300 square feet. I predict that that weight will go down to 25 pounds as they switch to a lighter weight paper. So how is the industry responding? There are two companies that I know of that have taken the groundwood completely out of number three and number four publication paper. Why have they done that? They have done it because the groundwood does not provide the strength needed for a thin paper to run well in a printing press.

Now, if they go down in basis weight, they lose opacity. But, aha, they're running alkaline. So now they can load it up with calcium carbonate and get the opacity, and probably not even have to buy titanium, which is very expensive. These two companies are Midtec in Kimberly, Wisconsin, and S.D. Warren-Scott at Skowhegan, Maine. I think you will see more of this: groundwood-free number three and number four publication paper. The trend will be slow, I think, because there's a lot of groundwood-making equipment in the field. But these two companies have been very, very smart, I think, in that they will be able to make very lightweight goods, get the opacity they need, and they will be groundwood-free....

The reason for the 20%. calcium carbonate is that the alkaline-based paper is much stronger than the acid-based paper. The average acid sheet may contain about 8% clay. But 20% calcium carbonate in an alkaline sheet is very common. The alkaline sheet is much stronger. The paper maker can decide what strength he has to have, then he controls the calcium carbonate content. If he has to have a very strong paper, then he puts in less calcium carbonate. If he doesn't have to have the strength, he can put in more.

Rolland Aubey: The pH 9 paper that was observed might have occurred because the papermaker was experiencing problems in making that sheet at a pH of 7.5. Papermakers have learned that one way of getting out of trouble with press sticking on the paper machine is to add caustic, which would have raised the pH to that level. There are other ways out of the problem, but that is a quick fix. It is not as simple as saying, "Put in synthetic size, calcium carbonate, and let it go." Some of the problem that were associated with acid sizing have been eliminated, but a new set of problem have developed. Experience with alkaline sized systems leads to solutions more basic than the "quick fixes."

Guides to Permanent and Alkaline Paper

Bill Wilson: In ASTM , as Mr. Aubey pointed out, we are developing a guide for permanent book paper. This guide, when complete, will contain technical data on tests that are important in describing the usefulness of paper, including recommendations for accelerated aging. Armed with this information, a buyer can make an intelligent decision between performance and cost. This is what we need--something that the buyer and the seller can use to facilitate communication.

Ellen McCrady: One of the things that I feel is high priority is to give people a guide, an up-to-date guide-a reliable one, like the Grade Finder--which lists only alkaline paper. It's Larry's [Larry Reger's] idea to have a sample book with one sheet of each kind of paper: something that can be used by anybody, whether they are in the paper industry or not. They can see it, feel and smell it, and so on. Each leaf will have printed on it the paper merchants or sales offices where you can get it. Right now a there is nothing like that. You have to go to a merchant to find out what papers are available and chances are that they will not know which of their own papers are alkaline.

Faye Padgett: We're trying to promote the use of this paper in order to facilitate an understanding of what papers meet the standard. Commercial printers will call GPO and say, I "Okay, I see the standard now. Where do I go to get the paper?" That's why I wanted GPO to test a lot of paper so we could give people--not necessarily brand names--but some guidance as to where to go to get the paper. So if there are any paper manufacturers here who have samples that they would like tested that they think meet the ANSI standard or our new standard, GPO will test them.

Things to Do

Jan Merrill-Oldham: Probably many university libraries have requests from reprinters to reprint materials in their collections. We've established a policy that we don't allow reprinting unless we get a guarantee that they print on alkaline paper. What I try to do is sit down with the people who are interested in doing the reprinting and explain to them the rationale behind our requirement so that they don't feel that we're simply being troublesome. That's a very slow way of getting a big job accomplished.

Larry Reger: I saw an article in the New York Times about the Bar of the City of New York needing $3 million to preserve law briefs. Well, what about the possibility of getting the courts to singly specify that no law briefs can be submitted unless they're on alkaline paper?

Faye Padgett: For those of you who may not be aware of it, I wanted to tell you about a group called the Federal Publisher's Committee. They meet at least monthly and they're always interested in having presentations given to them on important subjects. Those are the people in the various federal agencies who have their hands on what types of paper are used in government publishing. I really think that it would be beneficial for that group to be contacted, by whoever feels it is appropriate to give them a presentation or volunteer to do so as soon as their schedule will permit. If anybody needs to know how to contact them, call me in the office and I'll tell you how to do that.

[Three people from the paper industry volunteered to be on permanent paper standards committees: George Lambe of Glatfelter, Earl Mushroe of Georgia Pacific, and Ellsworth Shriver of Western Michigan University.]

The Speakers

Rolland Aubey, Nekoosa Papers
Joseph Brown, RIT School of Printing
Rajendra Kumar, U.S. Postal Service
Ellen McCrady, Alkaline Paper Advocate
Jan Merrill-Oldham, University of Connecticut Library
Carolyn Morrow, National Preservation Program Office
Terry Norris, papermaker and an organizer of the program
Faye Padgett, Joint Committee on Printing
Larry Reger, National Institute for Conservation
Samuel Scaggs, Government Printing Office
Ellsworth Shriver, WMU Paper Science Dept.
Sylvia Subt, Government Printing Office
Tony Truman, Government Printing Office
William K. Wilson, National Archives

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