With April 22nd approaching, to commemorate Earth Day, here is some information about environmentally-friendly paper sources: FSC certified paper and recycled paper.

What is FSC certified paper?

The Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, is an independent certification organization. If you see the FSC certification logo on a package of paper, it indicates that the paper has gone through an FSC chain of custody, from the forest where the wood was grown, all the way to the consumer.

At the forest, FSC certification means that the forest is being managed according to FSC’s standards, found here. Some of these standards include:

Environmental Impact – Forest management shall conserve biological diversity and its associated values, water resources, soils, and unique and fragile ecosystems and landscapes, and, by so doing, maintain the ecological functions and the integrity of the forest.
Community Relations and Worker’s Rights – Forest management operations shall maintain or enhance the long-term social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities.
Indigenous Peoples’ Rights – The legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples to own, use and manage their lands, territories, and resources shall be recognized and respected.
Compliance with Laws and FSC Principles – Forest management shall respect all applicable laws of the country in which they occur, and international treaties and agreements to which the country is a signatory, and comply with all FSC Principles and Criteria.

In other words, an FSC-certified forest is being run in a way that is environmentally, socially, and legally responsible. FSC certification isn’t just granted to forests used for paper production. Lumber can also be FSC certified, which is important as lumber by-products can also be used to create paper, preventing waste.

Why not just use recycled paper?

FSC certification means that the paper was harvested in an ecologically-responsible way, but it was still harvested. Why not just use recycled paper and avoid cutting down trees altogether?

Paper can’t be recycled indefinitely – every time paper is recycled, the fibers degrade. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper can only be recycled five to seven times before the fiber becomes unusable. What this means is that recycled paper may not contain 100% post-consumer waste – some of its content may be virgin pulp, and that may not have been harvested in an ecologically-responsible manner.

So what is the most environmentally-friendly option?

Fortunately, the FSC has 3 certification labels. In addition to their “FSC 100%” label, which certifies that paper comes from a well-managed forest, they offer two other labels. The “FSC Recycled” label indicates that 100% of the paper fiber is recycled, and at least 85% is post-consumer waste. The “FSC MIX” label certifies that the paper contains a mixture of recycled fiber and virgin fiber from FSC sources.

What this means for you as the consumer is that you can always turn to the FSC certification logo to verify a paper’s environmental friendliness, and you can rest assured that your recycled paper is in fact 100% recycled. But when virgin fiber needs to enter the paper cycle, it’s best that it does so through an FSC certified source.

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