Green Day

Although recycled paper has been available to catalogers for 20 years, few have committed to using it. Catalogers used to cite higher costs and lower quality as reasons for snubbing recycled stock, but those reasons are becoming less legitimate. For one thing, advances in printing technology and paper manufacturing have improved the quality of recycled papers. For another, growing pressure from environmental organizations is inspiring more mailers to look into recycled paper and consider testing it, which could ultimately help lower prices.

Mountain Equipment Co-op, an outdoor-sports equipment cataloger/retailer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been printing on recycled paper for about 12 years, says vice president of communications and marketing Peter ter Weeme. The 34-year-old company prints the covers and inside pages of its 140-page, twice-yearly catalog on a 40-lb. #4 sheet. It started using recycled stock partly as a response to environmental concerns among its 2.1 million members and partly to satisfy its own ecological commitment.

Mountain Equipment started with paper consisting of just 10% recycled preconsumer content — the content being composed of recycled remains such as unsold newspapers and magazines and waste from printing plants. The cataloger then began using papers made of increasing amounts of recycled postconsumer content — paper made from used newspapers, magazines, and office papers. Today the $150 million company prints its 1.6 million annual catalogs on paper composed of 35% postconsumer content.

Mountain Equipment may have been a pioneer in its use of recycled papers. But paper manufacturers are reporting more interest in the stocks. Last year papers containing recycled content accounted for 41% of Montreal-based manufacturer Domtar’s lightweight coated web paper sales, says vice president of sales Doc Maiorino: “Demand for environmentally responsible catalog papers has grown significantly over the past few years.”

Demand might be even greater if recycled paper didn’t cost anywhere from 3% to 10% more than comparable virgin stock. The higher price reflects the higher cost of recycled pulp, says Charles DeWitt, director of product management for Hamilton, OH-based paper manufacturer Smart Papers. Also, he says, many mills have to adjust their machinery, set up to manufacture common publication papers such as coated #3 grade sheets, to manufacture recycled paper. Smart Papers’ recycled stock costs approximately 4%-5% more than its comparable virgin papers.

But pressure from consumers is leading more catalogers to demand recycled papers (see “Lean, mean, and green?” at left). And as recycled stock becomes less of a novelty and more of a commodity, industry experts say, the price may well begin to creep down.

Already some catalogers report being able to purchase recycled papers for virtually the same price as virgin papers. Leslie Lenhart, vice president of corporate marketing for Tucson, AZ-based apparel merchant Crosstown Traders, whose titles include Old Pueblo Traders, Bedford Fair, and Coward Shoes, says her company was able to secure competitive pricing for the lightweight coated #5 recycled sheet it plans to use for its clearance catalogs.

“As far as the price differential goes, it depends on the mill,” says Lenhart. “There are some new mills that are being very competitive to the [virgin] #5 market, and the quality is also very similar.” Lenhart declines to detail how much Crosstown is paying.

Quality control

Even if recycled paper costs the same as virgin stock, catalogers could find themselves paying a bit more for printing on recycled. Jim Treis, executive vice president, sales and marketing for Menomonee Falls, WI-based printer Arandell Corp., estimates that about half of all printing companies in North America charge an extra 1%-2% to run print jobs on recycled paper.

Arandell did away with its surcharge two years ago. Up until then, Treis says, recycled stock wasn’t “clean” or thick enough to avoid problems such as ink clumping and “baggy rolls” (paper getting bunched up as it was fed into the machines). Today, though, so long as the printer’s presses are no older than 10 years old or so, such problems are unusual. “The chemical makeup of the paper allows you to run it better,” Treis says.

That said, some recycled papers, especially those with basis weights of less than 40 lb., are susceptible to breakage on the press due to their shorter fibers, says Bill Crane, director of marketing and corporate communication for Norwalk, CT-based Myllykoski North America, a division of Helsinki-based manufacturer Myllykoski Paper. “Presses can be tweaked very well to run many different grades of paper,” Crane says. But such tweaks — slowing down the presses, for instance, or reducing the tension that the machinery places on the paper — take time. Hence the reasoning for the surcharge.

Some printers flat-out don’t want to do the press adjustments and testing sometimes necessary to print successfully on recycled paper, says Peggy Bernard, president of Ojai, CA-based Environmental Paper Consulting. “It has to be part of your discussion with the printer. Let them know that you will be printing on recycled paper and testing different papers,” says Bernard, who serves as a production consultant for Ventura, CA-based outdoor apparel manufacturer/marketer Patagonia. She points out that Patagonia, which began purchasing recycled 45-lb. coated #3 sheets for its covers and 80-lb. to 100-lb. coated #3 sheets for its inside pages in 1992, has worked with several printers during the past dozen years with no problem.

Passing the test

Even advocates of recycled stock, such as Mountain Equipment’s ter Weeme, believe that testing is key. Recycled paper can sometimes look more yellow or off-white than pure white, and images may appear darker than they would on a virgin sheet due to differences in the way in which ink is absorbed on recycled stock. “We request test rolls, and test strength and how well the ink performs,” ter Weeme says.

Myllykoski allows its best customers to test recycled paper in rolls of approximately 2,000 lbs. Crane advises putting the recycled roll on the last reel of the press and viewing it side by side with the virgin sheet.

Delray Beach, FL-based office supplier Office Depot uses recycled content for its so-called Green Book, which it distributes through sales reps. Launched two years ago, the book sells earth-friendly products, such as biodegradable packing peanuts and energy-efficient light bulbs. In keeping with its mission, the catalog is printed on 100% recycled postconsumer content paper, says director of environmental affairs Tyler Elm.

Office Depot, which would not disclose the weight and grade of the papers it prints on, uses recycled postconsumer content paper for the covers of most of its other catalogs as well. The inside pages of its core catalogs aren’t made of recycled paper, however, since they’re a lighter stock and therefore more apt to experience color bleed, says Elm.

Office Depot is constantly testing recycled sheets in search of those that will be suitable for more pages. “We generally ask for samples to be sent to various printers and have tests undertaken. We compare results and look at each printer’s ability to use that paper,” Elm says. “When we get those tests back, we look at the ability of the printer and paper to get it right. Do the photos or images pop out? Is there any [color] bleed? Is the gloss as shiny as we want it to be?”

Crosstown Traders, too, hopes to be able to expand its use of recycled papers. Lenhart says the company is not only testing recycled sheets on press but is also mailing test catalogs produced on recycled paper to make sure a full-scale rollout won’t hurt sales. “The initial results show no problems on press and no significant change in response,” Lenhart says of tests conducted on clearance catalogs.

Lean, mean, and green?

Are you feeling the pressure to go green? You’re not alone, according to Boston-based environmental interest group Environmental Defense. After the organization published its “Does Your Catalog Care” report two years ago, “tens of thousands of people sent e-mails to the companies profiled in the report, either urging them to switch to recycled paper or thanking them for doing so,” says Victoria Mills, project manager, corporate partnerships.

Consumers are savvy enough not to accept pro-environmental statements that do not match corporate behavior, Mills says. “Research shows that people like to buy from companies they feel good about, and that environmental performance is a big factor in a company’s overall reputation, but you’ve got to walk the walk,” she stresses. “Saying you support conservation and then printing your catalogs on virgin paper is just plain inconsistent.”

Jim Sheibley, commercial director, magazine papers for Wisconsin Rapids, WI-based paper manufacturer Stora Enso North America, says that that company’s catalog customers are showing a growing interest in exploring recycled papers: “Many companies are becoming more aware of their environmental responsibility and are asking better and smarter questions all the time.”

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