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Bleached Paper Products

Office paper, tissues, toilet paper, kitchen roll, and bouncing baby nappies – they have all probably undergone a bleaching process to bring them to you in all their bright white purity.

But how squeaky clean are they in reality?

Paper Love
Pristine Paper White

Paper-making impacts highly on the land, it’s very energy intensive, and the chemicals used highly toxic. Industrial emissions include dioxins, organochlorines, PCBs, arsenic, lead, phenols, and mercury amongst others.

Research has shown that these chemicals not only persist in the general environment but will also bio accumulate with time. They have been found in growing numbers in lakes, rivers, animals and in our bodies where they are thought to contribute to the development of cancers, reproductive abnormalities, birth defects and other health problems.

Virgin Pulp – Not So Pure
Deforestation
Chemicals Used In Bleaching Paper

Any remaining lignin is removed from chemical pulp using chlorine gas and then treated with either chlorine hypochlorite or chlorine dioxide to give it more brightness.

Between 50 and 80kg of chlorine is needed to bleach each tonne of pulp of which approximately 10% will go on to bind with organic matter to produce furans, dioxins and other organochlorines.

Bleach-Free Alternatives

Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) paper is made from virgin pulp but without the use of any chlorine compounds, and instead utilises peroxide and oxygen to brighten the lignin matter to achieve brightness.

Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) paper uses the same process in the early stages, but uses some chlorine compounds in the later stages to increase whiteness.

Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) paper refers to paper product which has some recycled paper as part of its make-up. The recycled element will not have been re-bleached using any chlorine whereas the part using virgin pulp will not have used chlorine at all.

Chlorine free paper mills only use two thousand gallons of water during this process and so can make a big difference just on this saving alone.

Green Is The New White

  • Buy paper from fair-trade, well managed, sustainable sources (for instance as labelled by the FSC)
  • Use handkerchiefs not tissues
  • Do not print unless you really need to
  • Give up using paper cups, kitchen towel, napkins, and other products which are not needed
  • Buy recycled paper
  • Buy unbleached paper products wherever possible
  • Buy chlorine-free paper products
  • Always re-cycle paper and do not send to landfill

Office paper, tissues, toilet paper; they will probably have been bleached with chlorine to that desirable bright white. But how safe is the process?

Bleached paper

Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum
My Decisions Impact Michigan, the U.S. and the World

Another source of contaminants entering the environment is through the production of paper. Most of the paper used today entails bleaching the paper with chlorine compounds. This results in paper mills emitting many toxic chemicals that cause health and environmental problems. Once these chemicals are released into the environment they do not go away.

How do we cut down on pollution from paper bleaching?

Request chlorine-free brands when buying paper. There are many paper products we use that do not need to be white. Such products include paper plates and cups, paper towels, and toilet paper. If we as consumers demand chlorine-free products, fewer bleached products will be produced.

Alternatives

There is paper being made today in which chlorine bleaching is not used. Totally chorine-free (TCF) and processed chorine-free (PCF) paper are rapidly replacing chlorine-bleached paper in Europe. Use of TCF or PCF paper shows that environmentally responsible decisions can be made without sacrificing quality

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