Xerox Creates Cheap, Eco-Friendly Printer Paper

Xerox, one of the world's largest purveyors of copy machines and printing supplies, has made a new environmentally friendly copy paper. Xerox says the paper requires half as many trees to make and less than other green papers before it. But it's not clear whether consumers will go for it.

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Xerox, one of the world's largest purveyors of copy machines and printing supplies, has made a new kind of environmentally friendly copy paper. The company says the paper requires half as many trees to make. And unlike previous green papers, it costs less. It's not clear whether consumers will go for the new paper.

NPR's Rachel Martin reports.

(Soundbite of printer)

RACHEL MARTIN: Ah, the calm and strangely hypnotic purr of the printer. It's the soundtrack of our office life, really. Sure, people speculated about the paperless office in the digital age. But here we are, still printing. In fact, analysts say Americans alone use about one and a half billion sheets of paper in digital printers and copiers annually. So the goal for many paper manufacturers in recent years has been to come up with a paper that still looks good but is also environmentally friendly and cost-efficient. Xerox thinks they've done it.

Mr. STEVE SIMPSON (Xerox): This is groundbreaking. This has been a very, very difficult category of paper to develop for the digital or laser printing market.

MARTIN: That's Steve Simpson, the vice president and general manager of Xerox's paper and supplies business unit. The new paper, called high yield business paper, is made pretty much the same way as newsprint, except the Xerox paper makers have figured out how to align the cellulose fibers so the sheets of paper don't curl up and get jammed inside printers.

Trees are ground up and mixed into a watery substance that's then sprayed out onto a moving belt in a way that minimizes curl. Then it's dried and cut. Unlike traditional bond paper, the Xerox high yield stuff isn't bleached with chemicals and the lignin from the wood isn't removed. Simpson says that means the paper has a creamier off-white hue and a shorter lifespan.

Mr. SIMPSON: So if you were to leave this paper out in the sun, it will yellow, in many respects like a newspaper yellows. So you know, if you want to have a sheet last a hundred years, this wouldn't be the best choice. If you want to print bills and statements, you know, magazines and catalogues, it's a great choice.

MARTIN: And Simpson says while other environmentally friendly paper usually cost consumers more, the Xerox paper is about five percent less than the regular bond paper.

Tyson Miller is with a non-profit called Green Press. He says the high yield Xerox paper is a step in the right direction, but because there are no recycled materials in this paper, it's not nearly as green as it could be.

Mr. TYSON MILLER (Green Press Initiative): We try and push for papers to have a minimum level of recycled content, so for uncoated paper that's 30 percent recycled content. We also push to ensure that the paper comes from sustainably managed forests.

MARTIN: At this point, Xerox doesn't make paper from those specially managed forests, but it's something executives say they're looking into. The company does already make other paper that uses recycled materials, making up about five percent of the paper it sells worldwide. But industry experts say Americans often think recycled paper isn't as high quality. Some of it has that not-so-white, speckled, recycled look that hasn't done so well.

Mr. DON CARLI (Institute for Sustainable Communication): Americans, for whatever reasons, like their teeth and their paper bright.

MARTIN: Don Carli is a senior fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication, a non-profit group that promotes so-called green practices in the printing and publishing industries. He says there's an industry scale for paper brightness, and out of a hundred, the new Xerox paper comes in at 84.

Mr. CARLI: It isn't as bright white. Now, some people will find that just perfectly fine, but it's not the mainstream of the market.

MARTIN: At this point, Xerox's vice president, Steve Simpson, says the high yield paper is only going to be sold to corporate customers with high volume demands. But eventually Xerox hopes the high yield paper will make up 10 percent of its overall business. Analysts say the new paper is unlikely to replace regular white bond in the country's offices, but as long as Americans keep printing, the more important it becomes to develop some environmentally friendly alternatives.

Rachel Martin, NPR News.

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