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A Critical Balance: Virgin and Recycled Fibers Partners in Printing Paper Production

The balance of virgin and recycled fibers in paper and paper-based packaging production is a critical and ongoing consideration by consumers. While the pursuit of environmental friendliness-or the appearance of it-drives the push towards more recycled fibers, virgin fibers are essential in crafting high-quality, durable, and sustainable paper products.

Capitalizing on Complementary Strengths: Both virgin and recycled fibers bring unique strengths to the table. Recycled fibers contribute to the circular economy, reducing the need for fresh raw materials. However, each time paper is recycled, the fibers get shorter and weaker, eventually degrading and unable to bond into new paper. On the other hand, virgin fibers offer essential qualities like strength, durability and brightness. The longevity and performance of the final paper or package are ensured by continually introducing new fiber into the system.

Reducing Environmental Impact: Determining a proper mix of virgin and recycled fibers is a nuanced process. While some argue for exclusively recycled content to "save trees," the demand for wood fiber is also a driving force in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, as sustainably managed forests produce two times the tree volumes vs what is harvested. Strong market demand for sustainably sourced paper products provides a powerful financial incentive for landowners to continue to manage their land responsibly and keep it forested instead of converting or selling it for non-forest uses.

Well-managed forests are, by their nature, sustainable, and both virgin and recycled paper offer alternatives to electronic forms of communication that have their own environmental impact, such as e-waste and energy use. A balanced approach acknowledges the need for both sustainable forest management alongside recycling efforts.

Virgin vs Recyled Fibers in Print Paper

Meeting Business Needs: Choosing whether to use recycled or virgin paper typically comes down to the type of use. Most recycled paper contains a proportion of virgin fiber to ensure the quality of the end product. Breaking and separating fibers during recycling impacts the paper's durability and surface area, and recycled paper products can only be "downcycled," which means a corrugated box cannot be made into bright white paper, but higher quality paper can be made into recycled packaging grades. Many companies rely on using strong, bright, clean papers from virgin fibers to convey important messaging, provide strength, or be more hygienic. The wrong mix of recycled and virgin fibers will affect the ability to run smoothly through a press or printer and take up ink and other coatings. Ink saturation, registration and brightness may all be affected, creating a different type of end product depending upon the intended use.

Virgin vs Recyled Fibers in Print Paper

Reducing Environmental Footprint through Innovation: Paper is the most reliably recycled material, recovering nearly 68% of all the paper used in the U.S. in 2022 year and almost 94% of all cardboard.

The print and paper industry has contributed nearly $7 billion in recycling infrastructure, with approximately 80% of U.S. paper and packaging mills using some recovered paper fibers in their products. Technological advancements in the paper industry have played a crucial role in maximizing the potential of both virgin and recycled fibers. Innovations in processing techniques ensure the efficient utilization of recycled fibers and other materials without compromising the quality of the final product. These advancements contribute to a more sustainable and circular approach to paper production.

Increasing Consumer Awareness: Educating consumers about the benefits of a balanced mix of virgin and recycled fibers and the role the paper industry plays in environmental stewardship is essential. Two Sides North America researches and publishes an important collection of myths and facts to help consumers and businesses stay informed. Understanding that responsible paper production involves a thoughtful combination of these fibers can empower consumers to make environmentally conscious choices that truly support sustainable practices within the industry.

The union of virgin and recycled fibers in paper and paper-based packaging production is not just a compromise; it's a strategic alliance embodying the principles of sustainability, quality, and versatility. By striking the right balance, the paper industry can contribute significantly to a circular economy while meeting the diverse needs of consumers and businesses alike.

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