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  • Writer's pictureBertrand Mougel

Le Précieux Papier - FSC or Recycled? BOTH!

Updated: May 19, 2020

On a 7 year old article from Lucy Siegle in the Guardian I was reading about the ethical dilemma between using recycled paper or FSC paper. It turns out it was not a clear cut at the time an I doubt things have changed much since.

But before getting into FSC or Recycled Paper, I had a quick look at what paper is made out of. Here is my patchwork of relevant information I found while exploring the wild world wide web.

Paper is a sheet of uniformly spread cellulose fibres.

Plant cell walls are made up of cellulose fibres.  Plant material with more of cell wall is therefore a good source of the 'pulp' from which paper is made. Wood is a better source of cellulose than grass for instance. To make paper from trees, the raw wood must first be turned into "pulp." Wood pulp is a watery “soup" of cellulose wood fibres, lignin, water, and the chemicals used during the pulping process.Wood pulp comes from softwood trees such as spruce, pine, fir, larch and hemlock, and hardwoods such as eucalyptus, popular, aspen and birch.

The production of paper seems to be an incredibly greedy process in energy and water.

  • 324 litres of water is used to make 1 kilogram of paper.

  • 10 litres of water is needed to make one piece of A4 paper.

The pros for recycling paper are the obvious decrease in deforestation. But my findings also suggests that there is a lot less energy used.

  • One tree is saved every time 54 kg newspaper is recycled

  • Each ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees.

  • Paper produced from recycled paper consumes 64% less energy than that produced by wood fibre. Producing 1 ton of recycled paper saves 2.5 tons of water petroleum and 26 tons of water.

My dad's family comes from a town called Arches. Famous for it's amazing paper used for watercolour painting. The paper mill is places in this specific town, I was told, for the pure and extreme soft water available in the spring running through. The company is seemingly respecting many ISO labelling of environmental quality.

Another paper company I have in contact with often over the last years of my studies is G . F Smith. Amongst their claim to use renewable energy and chlorine free process, they also state that "many of G . F Smith’s ranges, including Colorplan and most of our Smooth and Textured papers, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This means that they are made with, or contain, pulp that comes from FSC well-managed forests, and follows a certified chain of custody that tracks the timber through every stage in the supply chain from the forest to the final user." G . F Smith also has a recycled paper range to pick from called Extract( using recycled coffee cup!).

Source: Extract Swatch. Photo: Red Camera Studio

In 2013, Lucy Siegle said that 174m hectares of forests had met FSC strict criteria.

"Violence and the displacement of indigenous peoples are also prohibited in its chain. This is crucial: forests support 1.6 billion of the poorest people in the world."

Eventually there is no clear choice to make between the two. We may as well look for both at the same time, as paper products increasingly offer both FSC-certified virgin fibre and recycled content (also certified).

I finally found the document I was looking for, a clearly described document on the meaning of the different FSC label out there and what they mean:

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