Blauer Engel das Umweltzeichen

Blue Angel the environmental label

I am writing about this because as an artist (Elsa Marshall-Rothstein) I have been striving for years to purchase more environmentally friendly products when purchasing materials. There are plenty of international certifications from the wood industry, especially for paper products, which are not always clear. My paper works are based on either up- or recycled, artist-quality bamboo paper, grass paper or cotton paper.

The environmental situation:

The production of one kilogram of new copy paper (200 sheets of primary fiber paper) requires around 50 liters of water and around five kilowatt hours of energy. The production of recycled paper, on the other hand, only requires around 50 percent of the energy and only around 33 percent of the water. In addition, up to 2.2 kilograms of wood are saved per kilogram of secondary fiber paper. This compares to 1.2 kilograms of waste paper for the production of one kilogram of recycled paper.

Recycled paper also has advantages in the life cycle assessment in terms of: photooxidant potential, eutrophication potential for land and water ecosystems, toxicity to the environment (ecotoxicity) and toxicity to humans (human toxicity). The removal of wood for fresh fiber paper always means an intervention in the forest ecosystem and is therefore associated with risks for biological diversity. The use of recycled fibers counteracts this risk. In almost all regions examined, there is a risk of land use changes due to the supply of wood for pulp and paper production. Only in Central and Southern Europe is the risk low because primary forests have already almost completely disappeared here.

The best way to avoid the risk of further land use change is to use recycled fibers. Certain paper manufacturing aids or ingredients in printing inks or adhesives can accumulate in the recycling cycle. Some of these cannot be removed. There is a risk of some substances being transferred from recycled paper packaging to food. For particularly vulnerable foods, an effective barrier in the packaging is therefore necessary to protect the consumer.

However, it is also very important that all actors in the value chain make their contribution to reducing inputs into the material cycle. By replacing polluted printing inks, adhesives and manufacturing aids, a big step towards clean paper recycling can be taken at the source. This takes both consumer protection and environmental protection into account in the long term.

Legal situation:

The principles and obligations of the Circular Economy Act (KrWG) apply, for example the recycling hierarchy of Section 6 KrWG and the obligation for separate collection (§ 14). The preparation for reuse and recycling of municipal waste should amount to at least 65 percent by weight in total from January 1, 2020 at the latest. The Packaging Act (VerpackG) regulates the disposal of packaging made of paper, cardboard and cardboard. These must generally be disposed of by private households (and the so-called comparable collection points according to Section 3 Paragraph 11 VerpackG such as hotels, restaurants, etc.) in the waste paper collection. Glass packaging belongs in the used glass collection, and packaging made from other materials (e.g. plastics, composites, beverage cartons, etc.) belongs in the yellow bag or yellow bin. Manufacturers must offer a return option for packaging used in industry and large businesses. They can also be disposed of by companies in accordance with the Commercial Waste Ordinance (GewAbfV).

The 16 leading printing and equipment manufacturers have committed at European level, among other things, to recommending to their customers the use of recycled paper in their equipment. They also want to draw attention to the environmental benefits of recycled paper. The EU Commission confirmed the implementation of this voluntary commitment in June 2015.

Market observation: I

In 2021, the calculated consumption of paper, cardboard and cardboard in Germany was 228 kilograms per inhabitant. This corresponds to a total consumption of 19 million tonnes. The waste paper return rate was around 14.5 million tonnes (77%). Domestic paper production amounted to 23.1 million tons with a recycled paper share of around 18.3 million tons (77.9%). The waste paper usage rate for individual types of paper, for example for corrugated cardboard base paper or newsprint paper, was over 100 percent. When processing waste paper, sorting residues and all impurities that affect the quality of the new paper must be separated out. There are still opportunities to increase the use of waste paper for magazine papers as well as office and administrative papers, but also for hygiene papers.

The Blue Angel is the best benchmark for papers.

Other product labels are less helpful for papers from an environmental perspective:
* FSC and PEFC on paper: FSC and PEFC are labels for sustainable forest management. You will mainly find FSC Mix papers on the market. “Mix” means that at least 70 percent of the fibers come from FSC wood and/or recycled paper. Most of the time it is pure fresh fiber paper. There are also some papers with the FSC recycling seal. But this does not meet the strict requirements of the Blue Angel, for example the minimum proportion of low-quality waste paper, energy and water consumption or the use of chemicals in production. Papers with the FSC or PEFC mark are therefore less recommended compared to goods that have been awarded the Blue Angel.

* Bleached without chlorine: means that no waste paper is contained and does not make any statement about the type of forest management. It only makes statements about the use of chemicals in bleaching. Today, elemental chlorine-free (ECF) predominates at 90 percent, ahead of completely chlorine-free bleach (TCF) at five percent. Only five percent of global production is still made with pure chlorine.

* EU Ecolabel (EU Flower) and Scandinavian eco-label Nordic Ecolabel (Nordic Swan): Both labels require less energy consumption and wastewater pollution than is typical for average paper production. The Nordic Ecolabel does not require the use of waste paper. The EU Ecolabel only requires a recycled paper content of 70 percent for newsprint. Both signs do not sufficiently meet the requirements for sustainable forestry. It cannot be ruled out that some of the wood comes from virgin forests.

* Austrian environmental label: This label sets limits for energy consumption, wastewater pollution and the use of chemicals. For office paper, it requires the use of 100 percent recycled paper. For newsprint paper, only 50 percent and for high-quality coated and uncoated printing papers only ten and 20 percent respectively are required to be recycled paper. Only half of the primary fibers used must come from certified forestry. The criteria for environmentally friendly raw material procurement are therefore not met.

Source: for consumers

Back to blog