How to Evaluate Sustainable Paper Options

March 15, 2022

Did you know not all sustainable products are created equal? Every month more brands pop up claiming to be more sustainable. Unfortunately, sustainability can be a complex topic that many customers don’t fully understand. When it comes to paper, some think “sustainable” and “recycled” are the same thing, but they’re not. It’s important to understand the various claims made about sustainable paper to ensure you find the right paper for your needs.

First, let’s define three types of paper:

  • Uncoated freesheet (UFS) paper is the standard printing and writing paper you likely use every day at home and in the office. It’s made with chemically treated pulp that’s free of lignin, the compound that binds wood fiber together.
  • Recycled paper contains a certain amount of reclaimed pulp (made by de-inking and cooking post-consumer UFS paper). Anything less than 100% recycled content is mixed with fresh UFS pulp.
  • Groundwood paper is most commonly used to make low-value paper like newsprint and telephone directories, but has been popping up more frequently in office papers. Groundwood pulp is made by mechanically grinding wood chips without added chemicals, so the lignin and other impurities remain.

When comparing sustainable paper brands, there are three facets you should understand.

  1. Recyclability

While UFS and recycled paper are recyclable at any paper recycling facility, groundwood paper is not. This is because groundwood fibers contaminate the recycling stream and can result in dark spots and imperfections in new paper. Groundwood can still be recycled into things such as additional newsprint and containerboard, but not into a white paper grade. Therefore, it cannot be placed in the same bin as normal paper recycling.

  1. Archival Properties

Any paper that contains lignin will yellow and become brittle over time. Groundwood paper falls into this category and doesn’t meet archival standards, even when mixed with UFS pulp. On the other hand, UFS and recycled printing and writing papers, like Boise X-9 and ASPEN, meet archival standards and will not yellow or deteriorate with age.

  1. Tree Use

Some paper brands claim zero trees were cut to produce their paper, which is impossible (unless they are using 100% alternative fibers like bamboo or wheat – which have their own environmental issues!). Wood chips, the primary ingredient in all UFS and groundwood papers, can be made on-site by chipping smaller trees and branches or can be purchased from saw mills using bigger trees for other products. Neither process is more sustainable than the other, so watch out for this claim. The difference is whether all of the tree was intended for the paper process or not. Any residuals created at a lumber or paper mill are not a diverted waste product, but a commodity and a usable product. So even though they aren’t the first to use the tree, they can’t claim it wasn’t cut for their use.

We know a lot goes into selecting a sustainable paper supplier that fits your needs. Next time you’re stocking up, you can rest assured knowing Boise Paper is dedicated to making products that meet the high-quality standards our customers have come to expect. To learn more about our commitment to environmental sustainability, visit

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