Scoring Paper Products
Environment scores are assigned to paper products by combining product-level environmental indicators (weighted at 75%) with company-level environmental indicators (weighted at 25%). Product-level scores incorporate the most significant aspects of the overall life cycle impacts of a product, but company-level scores are included to address product-level data gaps.
Product-level Environment scores for this category are based on indicators of
- Materials choice impacts, as measured by GoodGuide's recycled content index;
- Toxic waste impacts, specifically the type of bleaching process used; and
- Certifications of material choice or production process quality.
Health scores are not assigned to paper products, because this category does not typically result in significant human exposure to potentially harmful ingredients at the consumer level.
Product-level data on social performance are generally unavailable for this category of products, so GoodGuide relies on company-level social scores to characterize the performance of a product on this dimension.
For each of the three product attributes selected to characterize the environmental impact of paper products, we applied the following scoring rules:
- Recycled Content Index — According to life cycle assessment studies, a significant portion of the environmental impact associated with paper manufacturing is attributed to material choice. Potential sources of fiber for paper production include virgin wood, pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled materials, and alternative fiber sources. Many alternative fibers (also called tree-free fibers) are the result of wastes from agricultural processes, and can be used for paper rather than burned for energy. Post-consumer fiber mainly comes from municipal recycling programs, and substituting it for virgin fiber significantly reduces the environmental impact of paper. Pre-consumer fiber (also called post-industrial fiber) is primarily waste left over from manufacturing. Virgin fiber comes directly from trees and other plants that are newly pulped and previously unused. Under the GoodGuide Recycled Content Index, paper products with high percentages of post-consumer or alternative fiber score better than products made from pre-consumer fiber, which scores better than products made from virgin fiber.
- Paper Bleaching Process — The bleaching process used to whiten paper can lead to the release of chlorinated compounds, including dioxins. Dioxins are recognized as persistent and highly toxic environmental pollutants, regulated internationally by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. US regulations require paper manufacturers to use elemental chlorine free (ECF) processes at the very minimum. ECF mills significantly reduce dioxin emissions but do not eliminate them completely, because they still utilize chorine in parts of the production process. To avoid creating chlorinated toxic pollutants, paper can either be unbleached or processed using other less hazardous bleaching agents. For virgin fiber, totally chlorine free (TCF) or unbleached paper are the most environmentally preferable choices. For recycled fiber, processed chlorine free (PCF) paper is the best choice for the environment.
Certifications — GoodGuide evaluated the major third-party certifications available for paper products and assigned them to different categories based on their breadth (how many important areas of environmental impact are addressed by a standard) and stringency (how strict are their percent composition and auditing requirements).
- Comprehensive, rigorous multi-attribute certifications receive a 10 on this indicator;
- Strong multi-attribute certifications receive a 9 on this indicator;
- Moderate multi-attribute certifications receive a 8 on this indicator; and,
- Single-attribute certifications and designations receive a 7 on this indicator.
- Products lacking any certification receive a 2 on this indicator.