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checkPaper Reduction and Sustainable Printing

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A Sustainable Paper and Printing Policy specifies the use of recycled content paper (RCP) and other EPP attributes (e.g., process chlorine free, sustainably harvested wood, etc). Printing and copying policies specify processes that reduce the use of paper in general.     

  • Project Talking Points


    • RCP is typically defined as paper that contains at least 30% post-consumer recycled content, but it should be noted that 100% RCP is widely available.
    • Buying RCP offers environmental savings many times over, since fibers can be recycled repeatedly.
    • RCP needs less bleaching than virgin papers; reduces use of toxic chemicals.
    • Concentrates inks, chemicals and other potential hazards for responsible management, instead of releasing them as do landfilling and incineration.
    • Incorporates full-cycle production costs, unlike virgin paper, which includes no responsibility for its eventual disposal costs.
    • Worldwide, more than 300 million tons of paper are produced each year, consuming 300 million forested acres and requiring huge amounts of chemicals, pesticides, energy, and water. Reducing paper consumption lessens the worldwide environmental impact of the paper industry and keeps millions of tons of waste out of landfills.
    • It is important to consider the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) of paper. The carbon footprint of a product is the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted over the life cycle of that product, expressed as kilograms of CO2 equivalents. The carbon footprint figure captures the mix of energy sources used in producing and delivering the product, as well as non-energy related greenhouse gas emissions (such as methane and nitrous oxide) from production, use, and disposal of the product. Over time, the carbon footprint also captures energy efficiencies achieved in the product life cycle as well as any transition to renewable energy sources and materials/processes with lighter footprints.
    • When recycled papers cost more, price differentials are usually quite small. Flex your purchasing power to renegotiate for equal pricing.
    • Buying recycled paper stimulates demand for recycling, boosts the value of discarded paper, and thus makes recycling more economically viable.
    • RCP meets the same technical specifications as virgin papers, and successfully runs on the most demanding copiers, office machines and printing presses.Many are acid-free for archival longevity and are guaranteed to work well in copiers.
    • Purchasing RCP produces less pollution than virgin paper production, and minimizes the production of persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic (PBT) pollutants. This includes dioxin, which can be generated in small amounts during the chlorine dioxide bleaching process used by most U.S. paper mills today.
    • The process of recycling paper requires energy and usually bleaching agents. Both bleach and energy production generally harm the environment.
    • About 90% of paper comes from trees, the majority of which are not sustainably harvested.By reducing paper use we can reduce our support on this generally non-renewable industry. Source for some of the benefits: 


    • Centralizing printing services, sending and receiving documents electronically, double-sided copying will all reduce paper use and save money.
    • The Responsible Purchasing Network publishes a guide with comprehensive information on all aspects that should be covered in a sustainable paper purchasing policy.
  • Triple Bottom Line Benefits

    Cost benefits– A policy implemented throughout the entire healthcare system can result in significant cost savings, as many RCPs are the best buy or evenly priced with non-recycled paper (especially letterhead, matching envelopes, business cards, brochures, and many coated papers), and streamlining purchasing across all departments means you can buy in larger quantities further reducing or eliminating price premiums on recycled paper. Other policy impacts will also affect the bottom line as the institution saves on energy and waste costs.

    Environmental benefits – A comprehensive paper use policy will save trees, energy, water, and landfill space compared to virgin paper, therefore protecting forests, watersheds, and ecosystems.

    Health and safety benefits – Recycled paper production releases less toxics into the environment and the positive PR value that comes from an institution being responsible stewards of resources will benefit the health and safety of patients and the community and contribute to the overall satisfaction of your customers and staff.

  • Purchasing Considerations


    • 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.

      Environmental standards and certifications make it easy for institutions to choose high quality and environmentally preferable copy paper. The Responsible Purchasing Network 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).

    • Print jobs use vegetable oil-based inks in place of petroleum-based inks to reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds released into the air during printing.
    • To raise awareness about your organizations efforts, consider including on all external publications the recycled logo with a sample statement "Printed on 100 percent recycled/recyclable paper with a minimum 50 percent post-consumer fiber using vegetable-based ink." When more than 50 percent post-consumer fiber is used, consider reporting the exact number.
    • The Environmental Paper Network has a “Tools for Paper Purchasers” section on their website that provides numerous resources and toolkits.  

    • The Responsible Purchasing Network has a responsible purchasing guide for copy paper. This guide outlines social and environmental issues, best practices, cost, quality and supply, policies, specifications, standards and products.

    • EPEAT has model contract language for imaging equipment.

  • How-To

    Before you begin, conduct this Paper Reduction Assessment from Metro to get a sense of where your organization currently stands in terms of paper use and practices. Also, read through Metro’s Paper Reduction Guide – a comprehensive resource that addresses all aspects of paper use and reduction and references their many tools and templates, which are also available on this web page.

    • As you get started, review this list of ideas from the New Hampshire Hospital Association. Also check out the EPA’s how to guides and goals.
    • Assemble an interdepartmental team of key stakeholders. Consider creating a sub-committee of the Green Team or the Sustainable Supply Chain Task Force. Everyone uses paper, and some have strong opinions about dictating its reduction or about using RCP. Make sure you have buy-in across the board.
    • Include IT to manage software implementation, aspects that concern default double-sided (duplex) print settings, and logistics. Also include the Print Shop (or address outsourced printing specifications).
    • Gathering baseline purchasing and usage data. Your policy should specify regularly setting goals for paper reduction and increased RCP purchasing target rates.
    • Consider on-demand printing of documents/reports and streamlining and computerizing the production of forms instead of having a paper-based process.
    • Centralize printing stations in lieu of individual desktop printers to reduce unnecessary printing and reduce the amount of hardware and replacement toner purchased.
    • Eliminate excess copiers and fax machines where possible.
    • Set fax machines so that faxes are received electronically rather than in hard copy form. Print only as necessary. 
    • Specify a printer/copier tray for paper that has been printed on single-sided. Use for drafts and review copies.
    • Make recycle paper bins widely available and visible for reusable paper at all printing/copying locations.
    • Post educational fliers at every copier/printer station to encourage paper conservation.
    • Publicize and explain the purpose of the policy to encourage staff cooperation and acceptance; educate staff to get on board for improved practices and to monitor progress.
  • Tools

    • If your policy specifies products departments must use, the Responsible Purchasing database includes 150 products certified by Forest Stewardship Council, Green Seal, EcoLogo, and CFPA (see Standards), including printing and writing paper.
    • Metro’s Cost of Paper Calculator is a comprehensive tool in Excel format to help you put numbers to your healthcare organization’s paper costs.
  • Regulations, Codes and Standards, Policies

    • Most states either mandate or encourage the purchase of RCP – review “state mandates” for a state-by-state listing of paper specifications.
    • Executive Order 13423 dictates that all federal organizations review paper use efficiency to lower emissions and financial costs to the taxpayers. Also included explicitly in "environmentally responsible products and technologies" is post-consumer recycled paper and meeting agency defined minimum post-consumer recycled content.
  • Cross References: GGHC

    GGHC Operations Version 2.2 2008 Revision:

    • Waste Management, Prerequisite 2, Waste Generation Profile and Measurement
  • Education Resources

    If you have any information or resources to contribute, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • More Resources

  • PIM Descriptors

    Supply Chain, Waste

    Level: Beginner

    Category List:

    • Office Supplies
    • Paper
    • Policy
    • Recycling
    • Source Reduction
    • Training and Education
    • Waste and Recycling

    PIM Attributes:

    • Optimize Operations
    • Waste Reduction

    Improvement Type:

    • Recycling
    • Source Reduction
    • Waste Minimization


    • Interdepartmental
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