Expensive Recycled Paper

The Cox household was out of paper.

I had a few spare moments to make a run to Office Depot to pick up a new ream of paper. We have a network laser printer for those rare times we need to print, so I usually get the cheap store brand. It didn’t take me long to find the Office Depot brand copy and print paper at $6.79. The red packaging drew my attention.

Sitting next to it, I noticed a green packaged version, the Office Depot brand Envirocopy 30  at $8.29.  I checked the specs — 20lb bond, 30% recycled, same brightness. Sure, I’ll spend $1.50 more for a similar quality recycled product. Whatever.

I pick up what I thought was a ream of the same Envirocopy 30 paper and headed to the checkout. Going through checkout, I see $11.29 come up as the price for my ream. I take another look to see I had picked up the Office Depot brand Envirocopy 100 paper. In my well-meaning quest to strike a balance between rabid destroyer of trees and environmentally cautious consumer, I was now a whopping $4.50 over the original price under consideration.

The damage was done. I paid quickly, and was already out the door thinking about my purchase and forming the basis of this post.

Is doing the right thing worth $11.29?

Why does it cost more to save the planet (arguably)?

Producing recycled paper has additional costs over new paper production. Higher costs are associated with paper reclamation, cleaning, and pulping. A wikipedia article on the environmental impact of paper outlines the cost of preparing pulp from recycled paper is more expensive than production of virgin pulp.

Additionally, recycling certifications are added to verify to consumers the environmental benefits of the supply chain and processes used in recycled paper production. This particular product features certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council and Green-e.

How does the paper stack up?

As far as general copy/print paper goes, I personally cannot see any differences between this paper and the paper I have used in the past. There may be mild variations in durability, but nothing noticeable by the naked eye. The 100% recycled paper is bleached and smooth with no indications it is recycled. Overall, the only difference I can tell is I paid $4.50 more for the ream of recycled paper.


Was it worth it? I guess it depends on how you feel about the certification processes and the extra money diverted to the governing boards. I’d like to see a breakdown in expenses based on how much goes to the actual reclamation of paper products against the cost of certification per product, then how much overall markup is on the final product to the store. If there were any assurance that the retailer made the same amount of money from the non-recycled as the recycled, I guess that would help level the field, but from recent experiences I have had with calculating markdown from cost against markdown from price, I don’t see a world where Office Depot isn’t making a greater profit on the more expensive recycled paper.

With that in mind, next time I’ll probably just go with the 30% recycled paper product. I’m not trying to win any awards for my home use, and the price difference between non-recycled content paper and 100% recycled content paper is suspiciously exhorbitant. I’m probably getting ripped off on the 30% as well, but the difference isn’t so much I’m kicking myself for the purchase.

The best way to save on paper costs and be green is to continue reducing the amount of paper I need to print in the first place, which is getting easier. Most movie theaters can now scan tickets from my smartphone. I stopped printing photos at home. I save PDFs of things I used to print and save them to my iPad to read later. In the end, I think those go much further in being environmentally friendly than purchasing recycled paper.