The Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 4, Number 4
Nov 1991


Clifford P. Case, "Recycled Printing and Writing Paper: Industry Goals, Societal Concerns," a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Printing-Writing Paper Division of the American Paper Institute in New York City, March 11, 1991.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

The author is the director of the National Recycling Coalition (NRC), a nonprofit corporation founded in 1978 to further the goals of the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and similar laws. Its 3000 members include businesses involved in recycling, as well as government officials, voluntary groups, and individual,. Most of the NRC's efforts have been devoted to implementing Section 6002 of the RCRA, which mandates the use of recycled paper. To this end, the Coalition has sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) five times; set up a Recycling Advisory Council to inform the federal government and the public and to make recommendations; taken part in formulation of recycled paper standards through ASTM; and carried out other activities which Mr. Case describes.

Then he gets down to business and addresses the problem of printing and writing (P/W) paper, as he sees it. Far too little of this kind of paper is being recycled, he says, because the paper industry is dragging its feet. His production figures seem accurate enough. P/W paper makes up over half of all paper produced in the U.S., he says, and over a quarter of all paper and board together; yet only 6% of the fiber used to make P/W paper is recovered fiber. But his prediction for 1995, four years from now, sounds like a fantasy. By then, he says, if the rate of recovery does not improve, P/W paper in municipal solid waste (MSW) will total 39% more than old newspapers and old corrugated cartons (the two largest categories) combined.

A lot of inexplicable change would have to take place between now and then for that dire prediction to come true. According to EPA figures for paper and board in MSW, in 1988 the P/W paper content was less than half of the old newspapers and old corrugated cartons combined. His prediction, quoted from an unnamed expert, ignores established facts about the recycling picture, including the enormous expansion of deinking facilities now going on despite the economic distress being experienced by the paper industry. The May issue of Pulp and Paper lists 45 U.S. and Canadian deinking projects planned or under construction! He also fails to mention or take into account the pledge made by the industry last year to reach a 40% recovery rate by 1995. (In Japan, often held up as a model for the U.S., the waste recovery rate was only 48% in 1988).

From here on his paper is presumptuous, careless or deceptive with facts, and insulting. If I had not read it for myself, I would not have believed a person in his position could have said what he did, but in retrospect it does fit a pattern I have seen before in other contexts. He sounds like a person who has simply had the field to himself too long. This cause is easy to idealize and must tend to stifle criticism of the way he serves it: recycling is right up there with motherhood and apple pie, cleanliness and godliness in the public's mind. Such a cause confers power and covers a multitude of sins, making bad temper and bad manners look like justifiably righteous anger. He needs a little effective opposition from reasonable people to help him take a more rational approach. It would help if the public stopped looking at recycling as a way to accumulate admission points to heaven, and started giving some practical attention to the costs and consequences of the various recycling strategies proposed.

He says, "Specifically, we have established as a major goal of our organization the achievement of a substantial expansion of de-inking capacity within the printing and writing paper industry in this country.... If history is any guide, the printing and writing paper industry is going to resist any effort to expand its ability to use waste paper as a raw material." It must have been quite an experience for those officers of the American Paper Institute to sit there and listen to him tell them what NRC has resolved to make the paper industry do.

He continues: "...The printing and writing industry should not stonewall recycling advocates on the issue of using de-inked fiber and post-consumer waste as raw material.... My real question is whether you, the representatives of the printing and writing paper industry, are prepared to be reasonable." Over the last 20 years, he says, "I have observed some not particularly attractive industry characteristics which I would like to describe for you, and which I mould suggest must be changed if we are to make progress together. These characteristics are three: intolerance, disingenuousness, and voodoo economics."

The intolerance he alleges is intolerance of people who coincidentally sound a lot like him, or like he must see himself: "non-conformists, individuals who are bold enough to take a position which deviates from the "industry line' on recycling." What he calls disingenuousness is the industry's "over-estimating the adverse environmental effects associated with recycled paper manufacture." He says nothing about how long it takes, because of those very effects, for a mill to get an environmental permit for a deinking plant. The "Voodoo" economics" he refers to is the claim that mills can't always afford to use recycled fiber because it costs more than virgin fiber. He maintains it doesn't really cost more, because taxpayers have to pay to have unrecycled waste taken to the dump. This is a non sequitur. It is true that dumps charge tipping fees, but recycled fiber still costs more.

In the very act of describing these three characteristics, Case shows that they apply to himself, but he fails to show how they apply to the paper industry. "Disingenuous," by the way, means "not frank and candid; also, meanly or unworthily artful; deceivingly simple."

Having doubtless offended everyone in the room, he invites then to work together with the NRC to increase the use of deinked and postconsumer material in printing and writing papers, or else suffer even more government regulation and bear the responsibility for a growing solid waste burden. It is hard to tell whether his mention of government regulation is a threat or a prediction, since he has already described ways in which he has influenced the government.

Who would voluntarily work with such a person, or the organization he represents? Besides being offensive and a poor team player, he has set the wrong goals for the nation, and may be largely responsible for the goals EPA has set for P/W paper, which are wrong too, in my opinion. Somehow both Case and the EPA have become convinced that the solid waste problem cannot be solved unless every kind of P/W paper contains fiber recycled from P/W paper. They ignore the way successful recycling is done here and in other countries, and they ignore the quality considerations (including regard for permanence) that are so important for many kinds of P/W paper. Table I gives an idea of the different kinds of P/W paper, and their relative importance.

In Japan, in 1988, 78% of fine paper waste was utilized for household tissue and toilet roll, according to a paper by M. Iwasaki in the 1990 Japanese Journal of Paper Technology. It was recycled, but it was not put back into P/W paper. In the U.S., 3.6% is neither recycled nor sent to landfill. It goes into permanent records, some of which must be books. Only 18.6% of the rest is recovered--a low figure, but not so low when you consider that about a quarter of all P/W paper is magazines, which are unrecyclable with our current state of technology. The staples, glue, plastics and sticky labels in magazines cause too many problems.

In order for office paper to be recycled back into office paper, using current technology, it must first be sorted, in the office, into categories that are still in dispute in the recycling industry, but which ideally should separate mechanical from chemical, acid from alkaline, colored from white and printed from copied paper. (In practice, little office paper is separated properly in the few collection programs that include office waste.) Contaminants somehow get through the system, and sow of them show up in the paper produced. Photocopies and laser copies can be deinked but with difficulty, degrading the cellulose.

Now, all these considerations are bad news for the average mill making quality P/W paper. Although mills can make high quality recycled paper if they have good equipment and quality control system, and use well-sorted waste, most mills do not have all these advantages. The eventual effect of widespread use of recycled fiber, especially that made from post-consumer waste, will be to depress the general permanence and appearance of recycled P/W paper.

It is unnatural and expensive to force recycled fiber from P/W waste back into new P/W paper. Why not allow it to be sent into more forgiving streams, wherever it is needed and where such stringent sorting, bleaching, and deinking is not called for? The fiber will go further, the volume of solid waste will be cut back faster, the future of our recorded past will be protected, and the industry's goal of reaching 40% recycled by 1995 will be facilitated, not hindered.

A good antidote to Case's talk is an impartial paper in the April ASTM Standardization News: "Paper Recycling--From Option to Mandate," by Daniel B. Mulligan and Gerald M. Hodgson. It has good diagrams too, showing the paths fiber takes as it is used, exported, recovered and so on, for P/W paper, newsprint and corrugated containers.

The Case paper will not be published, but a copy of it can probably be bad from the author at the National Recycling Coalition, Inc., 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Room 2350, New York, NY 10020 (212/765-1054).

Table 1. U.S. Paper Capacity, 1991 (in thousands of short tons)

Total paper & board


Total paper


Total P/W paper



% of Total P/W


Coated Paper (publication papers & offset


Uncoated freesheet


% of Unctd Freesheet (est.)

Cover, text, uncoated book



Bond & writing






Bleached bristols



Cotton fiber


Thin papers


Note: "Publication papers" are made from high-yield pulp and are used for magazines and junk mail. Types of paper not included in the definition of printing and writing paper are newsprint, groundwood printing and converting, tissue, and packaging and industrial converting. "Converting" papers are those that are used to make things of (like grocery bags) or to turn into another kind of paper by separate treatment (like parchment paper).

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