Responsible Purchasing Network

Copy Paper: Cost, Quality & Supply

Though recycled-content papers are slightly more expensive than virgin papers, they are widely available and perform equally well. Read more about how one Great Lakes green purchasing consortium is getting high quality, environmentally superior paper at competitive prices.

Cost     Quality    Supply


Figure 3: Cost comparison of virgin and recycled papersRecycled copy paper often costs more than virgin paper. According to a 2004 survey of state purchasing agencies conducted by the Center for a New American Dream, the average price for copy paper with 30% post-consumer waste (PCW) was 8% higher ($25/case) than virgin paper ($23/case), and the average price paid for 100% PCW paper ($32/case) was 36% higher. See Figure 3. Ordering in bulk and choosing papers with lower weights and brightness levels are two ways to close the price gap, though at least 27 states and the District of Columbia simply allow for a price preference in order to meet their environmental objectives (CNAD, 2005).

Despite price differences, it can be relatively easy to reduce overall paper costs while still shifting to preferable products. First, improve paper efficiency by installing duplexers for double-sided printing and follow the other recommended best practices in the Responsible Purchasing Guides for Computers and Office Electronics. Based on a five-week test of copier defaults set to double-sided copying, Citigroup estimated savings of $860,000 on paper costs alone and $11.2 million on all purchasing, handling and disposal costs annually (EDF, 2004).

Second, consider purchasing in higher volume or through a cooperative contract. Buying in bulk may reduce the purchase premium of PCW recycled copy paper.

Finally, ensure that paper is being recycled and allocate the savings from waste-hauling toward the paper budget. If space allows, increase the average paper order to reduce shipping costs (which also lowers environmental impacts, especially greenhouse gas emissions). These best practices can reduce paper costs enough that the increased price of highly environmentally preferable paper is less than the savings banked from improved practices – the result can be a lower cost paper program with decreased environmental impacts.


Recycled-content paper meets the same technical specifications as virgin papers and runs successfully on office electronics (Kinsella, 2000). Buyers Laboratory, Inc., an independent testing laboratory for copiers, printers, and fax machines, regularly runs 30% PCW paper in the machines it evaluates and reports “no noticeable difference in the runnability of recycled paper versus virgin paper” (Conservatree, 2003). Brands such as Cascades and Hammermill even guarantee their recycled content products for use in standard office equipment.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors (UCSM) Recycling at Work Campaign coordinated an evaluation of recycled papers during the fall and winter of 1998. In this study, Canon U.S.A, Hewlett-Packard, and Lexmark, evaluated over a dozen brands of 30% PCW recycled content copy paper and compared these papers to 20%-25% PCW and virgin fiber content copy paper. Two million sheets were tested on various copiers, laser printers, and ink jet printers. Tests covered paper feeding, reliability, image quality, toner fixability, smoothness, curl, and more. The highest recycled content paper showed equivalent performance to less environmentally preferable paper. UCSM reported, “There are no more excuses. Multipurpose recycled content paper containing 30% [PCW] fiber works in your office equipment” (UCSM, 1999).

Since this study, done a decade ago, the quality and availability of recycled content copy paper has increased significantly. Now, in addition to 30% PCW papers, there is a wide selection of 100% PCW papers that work in virtually all types of office equipment and are often indistinguishable from virgin copy paper.

To maintain the integrity of any copy paper, handle and store it with care. According to industry sources, “at least 99% of all paper jams are caused by poor storage or a machine in need of service.” To avoid wasteful jams, store paper at room temperature and in a dry spot. Keep copy paper wrapped, off concrete floors, and away from pipes and direct sunlight. Use older stock first, and fan the stack before loading it into equipment (Paperrap, 2005).

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Recycled-content copy paper is available in standard weights and brightness levels and stocked by most printers, paper distributors, and retail outlets (Kinsella, 2000). Recycled paper with chlorine-free processing is also widely available. Major retailers such as Office Depot and Staples have committed to increasing recycled paper availability in stores and catalogs. In 2002, there was enough existing capacity to manufacture an additional 1.5 million tons of 30% PCW copy paper, an amount that could supply one third of the 2002 demand. Increasing demand has spurred increased production capacity and supply of recycled paper (Case, 2005).

Conservatree cites 63 brands of copy paper containing at least 30% PCW recycled-content, with 13 containing 100% PCW. Preferable products are carried by office supply stores, paper merchants, and are available directly from manufacturers. See the Products section for a list of certified papers.

Related Documents

Environmental Defense Fund and Citigroup, Inc, Copy This!, 2004

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