We have just completed the printing of two full colour jobs on recycled paper.
A 1000 colour booklets for a local author to be sold in aid of our local charity the Mary Stevens Hospice and some perfect bound Yearbooks for an Academy in Sussex.
These are rare occurrences. Because they are the first large full colour orders we have printed on recycled paper or card for a few years.
We have printed smaller quantities of business cards and leaflets on specialist recycled papers and some of these lend themselves well to the digital print process as well as on our Heidelberg offset press.
We even have customers who request that their documents are printed on recycled papers.
Using recycled papers for smaller print runs where the paper represents a lower percentage of the total job cost and does not increase the overall cost of printing significantly.
But as quantities increase so does the price differential between recycled and virgin papers.
Why does it cost more for recycled paper?
The printing cost for recycled paper is substantially more than for conventional papers even now we live during times when we are all recycling more and more of our papers and products.
The domestic collection process has improved dramatically – and most households now fill up a bin with paper and card for collection.
The same can’t be said for businesses – if we want to take paper to the local recycling centre we are charged for the privilege. If we generate large quantities of waste paper some companies will collect it free of charge. But we are not in that league with our small volumes of waste!
Many of the recycling factories currently have stockpiles of paper to process – the problem now is whether it is economically justified to process these or store until more favourable market conditions.
The paper has to pass through purification and this involves more production costs in terms of power and water.
And with all paper mills suffering increasing costs and price pressures – the cost of virgin papers is comparatively low at the moment and it is hard to make to case for using recycled papers.
Paper merchants are cutting stock levels which could mean longer delivery times for the slower-moving recycled ranges. And in the world of digital print we need fast delivery!
And so with the exception of newspaper printing, the paper merchants inform us that the sale of recycled sheets has declined by 75% in the past decade.
The principal reasons for the decline in recycled paper usage
· The simple economics of pricing is the critical factor. If buyers are under pressure on costs then environmental considerations become secondary. Recycled papers can carry surcharges of between 20% and 50% and this can result in quite a lot more on the larger print runs.
· Sustainable sourcing accreditations like FSC are viewed as good, if not better, than recycled papers for the environment. A classic example is the Woodland Carbon Capture scheme organised by Premier Paper and highlighted in a previous blog.
· We all like our papers to be bright white as an indication of quality. High white recycled sheets are invariably going to be more expensive than virgin grades by up to £200 per tonne.
· The growth of digital printing has not helped – digital production machines are less tolerant than offset presses for the fibres in recycled papers getting into the fuser units. As a result – most digital printing businesses opt for part-recycled or FSC papers.
· Do customers really notice? As a printing business we take a particular interest in the type of paper people use. But does the average person look to see whether their printing is from a virgin, part-recycled, sustainable of 100% recycled paper? Probably not.
Can recycled papers help your brand or environmental positioning?
Whether the recipients of printing are aware the paper is recycled or not is a moot point.
In most cases it is the recycled symbol or a small amount of text hidden on the back page that identifies the paper source.
For some companies it adds to their corporate branding and they make great efforts to highlight their environmental credentials and responsibility.
However, we have used it very effectively for some applications for very small businesses as well.
One customer imports fair trade food products and the recycled printing on packaging, stationery and leaflets enhances the environmentally-aware brand image they wish to project.
Another client sells vintage clothing – and we have used recycled card as the basis for very effective printed tags for their shops.
However, for the bulk of our clients in the private sector, recycled paper has dropped down the agenda.
The public sector, in the meantime, continues to remain a strong advocate of recycled paper.
When printers are invited to tender for public sector contracts the use of recycled paper is often a pre-requisite to join the approved list of suppliers.
Following Tony Blair’s arrival in Downing Street in 1997 a number of new initiatives were started to promote recycling generally and the use of recycled paper in particular.
The volumes of recycled papers went up to between 12,000 and 15,000 tonnes per annum in government departments and 100,000 to 120,000 tonnes across local government.
One of the most successful labour party initiatives – “Wrap” – ran out of steam long before the last labour government fell.
As austerity began to filter through the public sector the absolute overriding priority became the cost of paper and printing.
So although it is estimated that for every tonne of 100% recycled paper used rather than virgin paper * we save 30,000 litres of water and 3000-4000KWh of electricity – enough for a 3-bedroomed house for a year.
The direct costs were the over-riding consideration because decisions were made with budgetary constraints.
Recycling in the “digital age”
We are now in the digital age and in theory many of the things that have been printed in the past are no longer needed.
Messages at the bottom of emails ask you to consider the environment before using the printer.
And yet, we are generations away from the paperless office that was predicted to come into effect in the 1990’s.
Print continues to be one of the most powerful and effective methods of communication. But, like anything, it has to be justified in terms of cost above all else.
The amount of “junk mail” we receive through the letterbox is declining but targeted direct mail is beginning to gain popularity again.
Printing is re-defining its position in the communications mix and paper prices are a major part of the decision-making process.
Paper prices are certainly on the rise at the moment and the financial differential may yet place recycled paper in a more favourable financial position before too long.
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