Paper (Part 1) – what’s in it?

January 24, 2013

in Paper

paper stackAs anyone that knows Xcaliba will be aware, we believe that paper is still the world’s most powerful means of communication.  Papermaking is a science in its own right and a far larger subject than we could ever do justice to but we felt it may be useful to give a brief overview and the first part of our post series on paper will cover the materials used in the process of making paper.

There are still conflicting view points on the environmental issues of using paper (click here for a free copy of our view on the topic) but how many of us know what it’s made of?  Ask anyone on the street and their first answer would be “err – trees” but there’s a lot more to it than that. 

The main component of paper is ‘fibre’ and this can be across a range of sources…

  • Softwoods – coniferous trees such as pine and spruce.  The fibres from softwood trees are longer than hardwood fibres and give the paper strength.  Grown under sustainable conditions predominantly in Europe and North America, softwood fibre accounts for around 85% of wood pulp used for making paper in the western hemisphere.
  • Hardwoods – eucalyptus, birch and aspen.  The shorter hardwood fibres add opacity and bulk to the paper.  Eucalyptus is grown in more temperate regions such as Spain, Portugal and South America; varieties of birch and aspen are grown in the eastern regions of North America and across Europe.
  • Cotton and linen – this accounted for the nearly all European paper production up until the late 1800′s.  Although an expensive fibre source it is still used in banknote and high grade stationery papers such as Conqueror Connoisseur.  Interestingly, in the same period, the major fibre source for paper in North America was hemp, right up until the statutory criminalisation of cannabis.
  • Post-consumer Waste – recycled papers that have had been de-inked.  Due to the fibres being shortened through the recycling process post-consumer waste tends to be used more for packaging and newsprint than fine papers.  Paper fibres can be recycled up to seven times before the fibres become ‘strained out’.
  • Mill Broke – papermaking has a high degree of natural wastage and all pulp fibre is removed from the waste and put back into the manufacturing process.
  • Pre-consumer Waste – all print and paper converter factories will recycle the waste material from the production process.  This is baled for white (unprinted) or printed and then recycled accordingly.
  • Miscellaneous – if it has a fibre content then theoretically it can be used for papermaking.  This can include coconut husk, banana skin and, believe it or not, elephant dung.

Many papers that we use on a day-to day basis will contain, to varying degrees, a range of these fibre sources (except the elephant dung, probably) .  Typically a brand of paper could contain 50% Virgin Pulp, 15% Mill Broke and 35% Post-consumer Waste.

We’ll cover the other materials used in the pulping and papermaking processes in subsequent posts but the above list should at least give pause for thought the next time you’re discussing what paper is made of.

You can ensure that your paper is made from wood sourced from sustainable forests by insisting that your print provider is FSC Certified.  Read more about what FSC Certification means by clicking here.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: