Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 6, Number 3
Sep 1993

Recycled and Permanent:
An ALA Washington Office Fact Sheet

The American Library Association maintains a Washington office, as many organizations do. Just a few weeks ago it learned that President Clinton was about to sign an executive order mandating the use of recycled paper throughout the Federal government, without saying how the new regulation could be reconciled with the existing law that requires permanent paper for records of enduring value. Quite promptly the Washington Office turned out the following fact sheet, and sent it with a cover letter to the director of the White House Office on Environmental Policy. Whether it will have the desired effect, of course, remains to be seen.

For more information contact the ALA Washington Office, 110 Maryland Ave., NE, Washington, DC 20002-5675 (202/5474440, fax 547-7363).


Issue: President Clinton's proposed Executive Order on federal recycling, acquisition and use of environmentally preferable products and services should accommodate existing policy that promotes the use of acid-free permanent paper, so that national, historical, scientific, and scholarly records and publications produced by the federal government may be preserved.

Problem: Acidic papers in use for books, other publications, and documents since the mid-nineteenth century may become embrittled in as little as 30 to 40 years. The acid becomes an "enemy within" which attacks the molecular structure of paper and causes its breakdown. Acid-free, alkaline paper was developed in the 1960s when synthetic sizing chemicals and fillers were first introduced as possible substitute ingredients in the paper making process. Alkaline paper, due to its different chemistry and physical properties, may have a life of 300-400 years.

Permanent Paper Policy: The federal government uses and continues to use alkaline permanent paper to preserve federal records, books, and publications of "enduring value." The use of alkaline permanent paper was codified in P.L.101-423, A Joint Resolution to Establish a National Policy on Permanent

Papers, signed into law on October 12, 1990. P.L.101-423 states: "It is the policy of the United States that Federal records, books, and publications of enduring value be produced on acid-free permanent papers." In the first report to Congress under P.L. 101-423, the Librarian of Congress, the Archivist of the United States, and the Public Printer recommended: "Records and publications that are clearly permanent at the time of creation should be recorded on permanent paper. All others should be recorded on alkaline papers."

Background: Nationally recognized standards have been developed for permanent paper. Considerable progress has been made toward producing alkaline papers with recycled content. However, the state of the art does not yet accommodate production in sufficient quantities at reasonable cost of papers containing significant percentages of post-consumer waste and meeting other requirements of the proposed Executive Order, while still meeting appropriate standards of alkalinity and permanence. In the long run, the two goals--use of recycled paper and use of permanent paper--are not mutually exclusive. However, research is still at an early stage, and while progress continues, agencies must be able to specify the use of alkaline permanent paper.

Recommendation: The Executive Order should specify that all printing and writing papers be alkaline, and that the appropriate nationally-recognized standards for permanence be followed for publications and records of enduring value. Further, the Executive Order should include the recommendations of the National Archives and Records Administration: specify that printing and writing papers be alkaline; define alkaline paper products as those produced in an alkaline process without the use of alum (aluminum sulfate) rosin sizing; add the Joint Committee on Printing and Government Printing Office as members of the product testing program for papers because of their current responsibilities; and clarify that storage containers for permanent records and documents should not be harmful to the materials to be stored.

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