Responsible Purchasing Network

Copy Paper: Overview

Wondering which paper is truly green?

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Social and Environmental Issues

Key impacts during the copy paper lifecycle include: hazardous releases of chlorinated compounds in the pulping process, high volumes of water use and contamination, pungent and toxic air pollutants, high volumes of solid waste, high energy demands and greenhouse gas emissions, and damage to arboreal and aquatic habitats. Energy consumption, emissions, and deforestation related to paper manufacturing contribute directly to the larger issue of global climate change.

Best Practices

Successful paper programs start by forming a paper team that gathers baseline data, sets goals for paper reduction and increased socially and environmentally preferable purchasing. Next, an organization should adopt a policy, evaluate standards and specifications, implement improved practices, and monitor progress. This section covers how to 1) increase paper efficiency, 2) choose the right paper, 3) work with suppliers, 4) get staff onboard, and 5) recycle.

Cost, Quality and Supply

Though recycled-content papers are widely available and of equal quality to virgin papers, they are typically between 8-36% more expensive than virgin papers. However, price premiums can be offset through paper efficiencies such as double-sided printing, group or bulk purchasing, and savings accrued from in-house recycling programs. Read more about how one Great Lakes green purchasing consortium is getting high quality, environmentally superior paper at competitive prices.


The model policy drafted by the the Environmental Paper Network and RPN for institutional paper programs addresses paper efficiency, environmental attributes of paper products, recycling programs, and supplier communication. This guide also includes other sample policies from large and small government agencies, universities, and corporations.


Minimum specifications for copy paper should include: 1) 30% PCW recycled content; 2) chlorine-free certification; 3) chain of custody certification for virgin content, and 4) a requirement that vendors offer tree-free alternatives. For stronger specifications, including maximized PCW recycled content; recycled-content and recyclable wrappers, cartons, and corrugated packaging with a minimum of 30% PCW; and vendor green power use, refer to the Model Policy drafted by the Environmental Paper Network and RPN.


Environmental standards and certifications make it easy for institutions to choose high quality and environmentally preferable copy paper. RPN recommends: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain of custody certification, Chlorine Free Products Association's Totally Chlorine-free (TCF), and/or Processed Chlorine-free (PCF) marks, and paper certifications from Green Seal and EcoLogo. Other certification programs include the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC), and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Ready to buy preferable paper?

Use cooperative contracts to leverage competitive pricing.
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The RPN database of eco-labeled papers includes 150 products, as well as the Paper Steps hierarchy of paper attributes, and WWF’s Paper Scorecard, both of which are designed to help purchasers rank and choose environmentally preferable papers.

Creative Commons License This work by the Responsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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