How to Increase Recycled Paper Purchasing

What is it going to take to increase the demand for recycled paper? One Encinitas, Calif.-based organization thinks it may have the answer: cheaper prices.

While environmentalists and recycling advocates have encouraged consumers to use recycled paper for years, it still only represents approximately 9 percent of the printing and writing paper markets. However, since May 1999, the Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative (RPPC), a nonprofit program dedicated to increasing recycled copy and printer paper use nationally, has provided hundreds of buyers with 30 percent postconsumer recycled paper at prices that meet or beat virgin stock prices.

"We [surveyed] businesses," says Tyson Miller, RPPC program manager, "and found that about seven out of 10 would buy recycled if it were cost-effective."

Each year, RPPC members collectively buy a large volume of recycled paper. As a result, RPPC's paper supplier - Willamette Industries, Portland, Ore., a sustainable forest products company - can provide substantial discounts to companies that buy through the cooperative. The coalition receives a small commission from each RPPC purchase.

According to the RPPC, Willamette's nationwide distribution allows paper to be delivered almost anywhere a member is located. Member companies do not need to make bulk purchases; Willamette adheres to the agreed-upon pricing schedule regardless of the order size.

Additionally, RPPC's participants can join the cooperative for free. Once businesses contact the cooperative to discuss volume and pricing, Solana Recyclers, a San Diego-based firm coordinating the purchases, places the first order and provides the participant with a purchasing number. From that point on, the customer number can be used to access the discounted price schedule and order products directly from Willamette.

The cooperative only uses recycled paper that has been tested and recommended by the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. In addition to bright, white paper, the RPPC offers 81/2-inch by 11-inch colored paper, 11-inch by 17-inch legal, three-hole-punched paper and continuous feed paper.

Initially, participating companies primarily were located in six western states - Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. However, the RPPC now is affiliating with other buy-recycled advocates and nonprofit organizations across the country, the first being Boston's WasteCap, which will promote joining RPPC in various geographic regions.

The RPPC members claim they are saving money. Accounting firm Grice, Lund & Tarkington, based in Encinitas, Calif., for example, is buying recycled paper for $10 less per case than virgin paper. SeaWorld, San Diego, says it is saving more than $3 per case.

In addition to saving money, businesses that participate in the cooperative also can track the number of trees they have saved through recycled paper purchasing. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., for every ton of 30 percent postconsumer recycled paper purchased - or 40 cases of paper - eight trees are saved.

So far, hundreds of member companies have signed on with the RPPC, including Union Bank of California, San Francisco, the city of San Diego, Sea World, JFK University, Orinda, Calif., and Pomona Unified Schools, Pomona, Calif.

According to Jane Hunt, Grice, Lund & Tarkington spokeswoman, the firm was concerned that recycled paper would be of lesser quality than virgin paper, which would pose a liability during busy periods such as tax time. But she says that the paper quality is the same and says its purchase represents "quite a cost savings."

The RPPC has received grants and contributions from the EPA Region 9 based in San Francisco, and other major partners, including Union Bank of California and San Diego-based companies such as the San Diego Foundation, the McCarthy Foundation and Coast Telecommunications. But the RPPC realizes that for the program to be successful, it must be self-sufficient. Consequently, the organization is developing a strategy for complete financial autonomy by the end of fiscal 2003.

The RPPC is continuing to expand the program. Next year, the cooperative will be carrying paper grades with between 50 percent and 100 percent higher postconsumer content - and tree-free papers such as kenaf.

According to Miller, buying through the cooperative can save businesses from dealing with erratic market paper prices. "[Through the RPPC,] pricing is fixed for quarterly terms, which is better than the market, which fluctuates quite a bit," he says. "Also, because we're nonprofit, proceeds go back into our efforts to promote buying recycled."

For pricing information or to join the cooperative, call toll-free (800) 694-8355 or visit