Cost Competitiveness and Paper Buying Tips

Many recycled papers are equal to or less than the cost of virgin papers - especially papers used for letterhead, brochures and business cards. Recycled paper is so widely available that many major purchasers often specify recycled paper that meets the EPA Guidelines as a minimum, rather than ask for bids for both virgin and recycled paper.

Here are some tips for further cost savings:

  • Buy in large quantities to take advantage of bulk discounts.
    If necessary, consolidate orders with other departments or organizations. Bigger orders get the best prices. A pallet (40 cartons) often yields good discount pricing for copy paper.
  • Reduce the basis weight to reduce costs as well as environmental impacts.
    (Heavier papers use more fiber.) Twenty-four pound paper has become popular with some offices, but a 20# copy paper is sufficient for almost all uses. Lighter papers also reduce postage and shipping costs.
  • Make sure you’re using the right grade of paper for the job.
    Frequently, buyers who report high prices for recycled paper are not choosing the same recycled grade of paper as the virgin paper grade they’re comparing to. The higher costs are caused by the more expensive type of paper, not by the recycled content.
  • If minimizing costs is critical, then buy recycled papers that meet at least the minimum EPA federal purchasing guidelines.
    While these papers do not offer as much environmental benefit as those with higher postconsumer contents, they help strengthen and maintain the recycling system. They are generally less expensive than higher postconsumer recycled-content papers and very cost-competitive compared to virgin papers.

Remember, when buying and using printing and writing paper:

  • Work with your printer.
    Dissimilar papers exhibit differences in performance and printability - whether recycled content or not. Also, printers favor some paper distributors over others to consolidate purchases. So if one printer does not have the recycled paper you need, or it’s very expensive, another may well have better access and prices.
  • Ask if your printer is a certified “Green Business” If not, ask them to consider becoming certified. For information and a list of certified printers, visit the Bay Area Green Business Program (
  • Work with your graphic designer.
    Some papers are better than others for certain design needs. Have your designer start their creative design from choices among recycled papers rather than coming up with a concept and then looking for a paper to match it. Make sure your designer consults with your printer on paper sizes and formats so that designs can minimize paper waste.
  • Ask for vegetable-based inks and environmentally benign pigments.
    The majority of all commercial inks are petroleum-based, a non-renewable resource, and contain environmentally toxic metals. Vegetable oil-based inks such as soybean, linseed, corn, cottonseed, canola, China wood and rosin are widely available, more environmentally sound, and easier to remove when recycled. Be sure the ink used has a high percentage of vegetable oil (some replace only a small percentage of the petroleum) and look for inks without environmentally toxic metals in their pigments.
  • Promote paper recycling throughout the office.
    Establish or improve an office paper recycling program to help ensure the raw materials for recycled content papers are always available.

If you buy newsprint:

  • Pay attention to newsprint’s basis weight.
    Different weights hold up better in different presses. Consider your requirements for the newsprint you’re buying. Recycled content newsprint manufacturers are meeting customers’ printability, brightness, cleanliness and opacity performance requirements. State law requires California printers and publishers to use recycled content newsprint containing a minimum of 40% postconsumer fiber for at least half the newsprint they use. See the CalRecycle website for more information (