With the rise of climate change and increasing awareness of sustainability, we hear a lot about eco-friendly or green products ranging from laundry detergent to the commonplace piece of paper. Most of us have heard the terms ‘FSC’ and ‘recycled’, and a common misconception is that anything with the FSC logo on it means it is recycled paper, but that is not the case. To understand the difference, read on to find out.
So, what is FSC really?
The question should really be “What is the FSC”? FSC actually stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, a not-for-profit alliance established between NGOs, governments, as well as paper and timber players in 1993. Originally founded in California, the FSC is now an international organisation that works to “promote the responsible management of the world’s forests, bringing together experts from the environmental, economic and social spheres.” It is the only forest certification scheme endorsed by major environmental charities such as Greenpeace, WWF and the Woodland Trust.
The FSC is now an international organisation that works to “promote the responsible management of the world’s forests, bringing together experts from the environmental, economic and social spheres.”
FSC certified paper is typically composed of virgin tree fibres instead of recycled materials. As we know, paper in general is made from wood pulp. However, when the wood pulp used to produce paper is sourced from a well-managed forest, it can be just as eco-friendly as paper made out of recycled materials. This is where the FSC stamp of approval comes in - products made with wood and paper from FSC forests are marked with the FSC logo to indicate its sustainable sources, and assist consumers in making informed choices.
There are three types of FSC certifications or labels that are granted to a product:
FSC Pure - All materials must come from an FSC certified forest and the paper must not contain any recycled material or non-FSC fibre of any kind.
FSC Recycled - To be considered a FSC Recycled product, a minimum of 85% of the wood fibre content must be from post-consumer sources, with a maximum of 15% derived from post-industrial sources.
FSC Mixed - These are products containing a blend of FSC Pure, FSC Recycled and/or Controlled Fibre whereby Controlled Fibre is any wood fibre that does not originate from an FSC forest or is not recycled material.
The FSC certification system also takes into account the “Chain of Custody” by tracking the timber to ensure that it goes from an FSC-certified forest to a paper manufacturer, merchant and printer who have FSC Chain of Custody certification
What is recycled paper?
Recycled paper is generally made from post-consumer reclaimed material, and pre-consumer reclaimed material. The first being materials that are reclaimed consumer waste, and the latter from secondary manufacturing processes or processes further downstream industry. Although products may be labeled as ‘Recycled Paper’, be mindful of the actual percentage content of reused paper and aim to purchase those using 100% recycled materials.
While the idea of recycling is a good one, the recycling process requires a lot of energy, water, bleach and toxic chemicals. It is also high in cost especially if manufacturers do not have the proper facilities for recycling and also produces waste, which inevitably ends up going to landfill or incinerators. And the cycle continues.
There is no simple answer to whether FSC or Recycled paper is a better option. The answer is not quite as simple as just “recycled paper”. Although paper can be recycled, wood fibres can only be reused five to seven times to create new products. Ideally, products would be both certified FSC virgin fibre, and FSC Recycled. Therefore, sourcing virgin fibre from responsibly-managed FSC-forests will remain essential for sustainable paper manufacturers.
FSC and recycled paper aside, what exactly constitutes sustainable paper? If you are interested in learning more about sustainable paper or paper as a sustainable product, we will be talking about it in our next blog post.