Green Series: Chlorine Free Paper

June 18th, 2010 by

Should you care about the paper you buy being chlorine free?

When you’re shopping for paper stock, you’ve likely noticed that many papers feature an acronym like PCF, or ECF, or TCF. But what do those acronyms mean? And what do they mean for the environment?

They’re all referring to the degree to which the paper production process avoids the use of chlorine. Chlorine gas is what paper mills traditionally use to bleach paper fibers. While it does the trick, it also creates highly toxic byproducts that leak into the environment. These dioxins and furans can, among other things, cause cancer and birth defects in humans.

So, simply put, keep out the chlorine! All those acronyms are good things to see on a ream of paper. More specifically, here’s what each means.

PCF / PROCESSED CHLORINE-FREE is paper that is produced without elemental chlorine or chlorine derivatives, but it is unknown whether any recycled content was originally processed using chlorine. So if you’re buying recycled paper (like you should) the mill didn’t use chlorine when they transformed the recycled fibers into new paper. They just can’t attest to how the fibers were treated before they were put in the recycling bin.

TCF / TOTALLY CHLORINE-FREE means that instead of using chlorine in the bleaching process, the mill used oxygen-based compounds. Why would this be less preferable than PCF? Because in order for paper to be certified as TCF, it has to come from 100% virgin fibers. Unfortunately, you either need to get TCF paper or recycled paper—you can’t have both.

ECF / ELEMENTAL CHLORINE-FREE is bleached using chlorine dioxide instead of elemental chlorine. This is better by a long ways than traditionally bleached paper; chlorine dioxide use reduces the production of dioxin byproducts by 94%!

There are, of course, two other options. The first is traditionally bleached paper. Although this is often selected for visual appearance, we can’t really recommend this when it comes to creating an earth friendly package. The second is to opt for an unbleached stock. When Double 6 Design designs packaging, for example, we recommend using a stock that’s been coated white on the outside, but which is unbleached kraft on the inside. If it’s not bleached, there’s no need for chlorine in the first place.

Next up in our Green Series: what does FSC certification mean anyway?