Thumbs up for recycled paper in office equipment

The use of recycled paper in office equipment has doubled since 1989 and is set to double again by 1996 following a sea change of opinion among equipment producers on its acceptability, according to a report by Conservation Papers.1 But demand for recycled grades is now being hampered by low prices for virgin paper.

Two-thirds of the Times Top 1,000 companies claim to use recycled paper, but this has largely been restricted to low-performance applications, according to Kyocera Electonics, manufacturer of the Ecosis range of "green" laser printers. Conservation Papers' report is aimed at enhancing the reputation of recycled paper by destroying what it sees as the myth that printer manufacturers discourage its use in their machines.

Misconceptions about recycled paper arose in part from equipment manufacturers themselves. In 1990, Hewlett Packard's laser printer manual advised customers not to use recycled paper. This was typical of the belief that the equipment would be damaged by higher dust and resin levels and require more frequent servicing. Some users were also led to believe that their warranties would be invalidated if recycled paper was used.

Today, Hewlett Packard says it has "no objections at all to the use of recycled paper in our machines. It certainly won't affect the customer's warranty or service contract, provided the recycled paper meets minimum quality standards." This stance was backed by all but one of the 20 manufacturers approached by Conservation Papers. Support was also given by major users such as BP Chemicals, which uses recycled paper for 95% of its printer needs.

The change in opinion has come about for two reasons. In the UK, some corporate customers have demanded equipment able to handle recycled paper. But more important was the advent of the German "Blue Angel" criteria for photocopiers. To get approval under this eco-labelling scheme the photocopier had to be able to use Blue Angel-approved recycled paper. Rather than lose out in the lucrative German market, manufacturers endorsed recycled paper.

In the UK, these initiatives have helped to boost recycled paper consumption in laser printers and photocopiers from 6-7,000 tonnes in 1989 to 14,000 tonnes in 1992. The figure is expected to reach 30,000 tonnes in 1996, according to a report by the market research company Mikulski Hall.2However, the advance should not be overstated. Recycled paper's share of the market in these applications was only 2.9% in 1992, and is projected to grow to just 5% in 1996.

Gaining a much larger share will be difficult with prices of recycled paper 30-40% above those of virgin grades which look the same, and 15% above those of virgin grades of the same performance standard, notes Conservation Papers. Recycled paper was once cheaper, but new paper-making capacity has created an over-supply and lowered virgin paper prices.

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