May 24, 2011

Recycled fiber is not separate from the industry’s overall fiber system. The diagram below shows that the virgin fiber and recycled fiber systems are really part of a single wood fiber system. Recovered fiber would not exist if virgin fiber were not harvested, processed and placed into the wood fiber system. Likewise, with over 30% of the industry’s fiber coming from recovered paper, the industry would be hard pressed to meet the demand for its products without recovered fiber. Both are required. Virgin fiber is generally used in those applications where it provides needed strength, brightness or surface properties at a competitive cost. Likewise, the use of recovered fiber is dictated by considerations of price and performance in specific applications.

 Recycling diagram 
Source: Christine Burow Consulting, 2011

NCASI’s recycled fiber-related research program is focused primarily on the development of data needed to characterize the environmental profile industry’s recycled fiber production. NCASI has conducted studies examining various aspects of this manufacturing category, such as in-mill sampling studies for parameters of interest, studies related to landfilling and degradation of manufacturing residuals, and research to quantify releases from recycled fiber manufacturing process units. Recent NCASI analyses have included examination of published life cycle assessment (LCA) studies related to the question of “which is better, recycled fiber or virgin (fresh) fiber?” along with development of approaches for members to use in allocating environmental loads when undertaking LCAs related to recycled fiber.

Relevant NCASI Publications

In December 2012, NCASI published Technical Bulletin No. 1003, Methods for Open-Loop Recycling Allocation in Life Cycle Assessment and Carbon Footprint Studies of Paper Products. When performing an LCA on a system producing recycled tissue paper, one must decide how to “allocate” various environmental loads and resource requirements between two connected systems, one of which produces the recovered fiber (the office paper system) and the other that uses it as a raw material (the tissue paper system). In this report, NCASI explains and illustrates several open-loop recycling allocation methods that can be used for this purpose.

In May 2011, NCASI published Technical Bulletin No. 985, Summary of the Literature on the Treatment of Paper and Paper Packaging Products Recycling in Life Cycle Assessment. NCASI undertook this literature review to assist the forest products industry and its stakeholders in better understanding methodological choices and their implications when applied to the treatment of paper recycling within LCA.

In April 2009, NCASI published Special Report No. 09-04, Review of LCA Allocation Procedures for Open-Loop Recycling Used in the Pulp and Paper Industry. The report describes the allocation issue as it relates to paper recycling, examines approaches to addressing it (with a special emphasis on the approaches described in ISO 14044), and reviews a number of studies where allocation issues related to paper recycling have been addressed.

In 1998, EPA released the first version of its WAste Reduction Model (WARM). WARM is used to examine the life cycle greenhouse gas impacts of different options for managing municipal solid waste (MSW). WARM and the data within it are used in a number of programs to characterize the impacts of recycling and disposing of used paper. Over the years, WARM has been updated several times and recently, EPA issued Version 12 of the model. NCASI has examined EPA’s most recent version of WARM and has issued an Update of NCASI Analysis of EPA’s WAste Reduction Model (WARM).

Information related to this sector’s releases to air and water can be found within the Air Quality and Water Quality sections of this website, respectively. Other relevant NCASI publications can be found by entering relevant key words in the Site Search field at the top of this page.