The forest products sector makes use of both fresh and recycled fiber, and both are required to fulfill the sector’s raw material needs. There continue to be questions raised by industry stakeholders regarding the effects of using recovered/recycled fiber versus fresh fiber, and the associated implications related to land use. Maintaining technical knowledge on recovered fiber and land use-related implications helps provide member companies with objective information to characterize and enable quantification of the environmental attributes of all wood fiber types, including recovered and fresh fiber, in maintaining an optimal forest products fiber cycle.
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.
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 the development of approaches for members to use in allocating environmental loads when undertaking LCAs related to recycled fiber.
Recycling & Land Use
Recycled vs Fresh Fiber
There are a multitude of considerations that manufacturers make when deciding the amounts of recycled and fresh fiber for their products such as performance, market demand, manufacturing capabilities and resource availability.
Have you ever wondered if it is more sustainable to use paper products made from fresh or recycled fiber? It is a fair question to ask, but a question that cannot be answered with either-or. In fact, fresh and recycled fiber are part of single-integrated wood fiber system.