When it comes to green paper, products are commonly plastered with logos from certifying agencies that deem the product worthy of wearing their badge of approval.

A number of certifications outline criteria regarding post-consumer fiber, recovered fiber and processed chlorine free, but there is often confusion with these terms.

Post-consumer fiber is finished product that served its purpose, and then was recovered from or otherwise diverted from the waste stream for the purpose of recycling.

Recovered fiber is fiber generated after the completion of the paper making process, such as post-consumer materials, envelope cuttings, bindery trimmings, printing waste, butt rolls and mill wrappers, obsolete inventories and rejected unused stock.

Processed chlorine free means that environmentally friendly paper isn't rebleached using chlorine or chlorine derivatives.

Distributors may be familiar with industry staples such as Green Seal and EcoLogo, but there are other certifiers to look out for. To help distributors navigate the world of environmentally friendly towels, tissue and napkins, Sanitary Maintenance has provided a quick reference guide to today's certifying agencies and what each certification really means about the product.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)


Protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment is the EPA's mission. And even though the association does not certify products, it does make recommendations on what institutions should purchase. In fact, the EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guideline program is part of the agency's effort to promote the use of materials recovered from solid waste.

Purchasing recycled-content products ensures that materials collected in recycling programs will be used again in the production of new products. Under the program, the EPA designates items that must contain recycled materials when purchased with appropriated federal funds by federal, state and local agencies, or by government contractors.

Under the EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for commercial/industrial sanitary tissue, bathroom tissue must be 20 to 100 percent recovered fiber, including 20 to 60 percent post-consumer fiber. Paper towels must have 40 to 100 percent recovered fiber, including 40 to 60 percent post-consumer fiber. Paper napkins must be anywhere from 30 to 100 percent recovered fiber, including 30 to 60 percent post-consumer fiber. Facial tissue needs to contain 10 to 100 percent recovered fiber, including 10 to 15 percent post-consumer fiber and general-purpose industrial wipers must contain 40 to 100 percent recovered fiber, including 40 percent post-consumer fiber.

Green Seal


Green Seal is a non-profit, third-party certifying organization that looks at the entire lifecycle of a product — from the raw materials used to make it, to whether it is recyclable.

Green Seal has two standards in which paper products are categorized. The first, GS-1, is Green Seal's Environmental Standard For Tissue Paper. This standard establishes environmental requirements for bathroom and facial tissue. The second, GS-9, is Green Seal's standard for paper towels and paper napkins.

Under GS-1 requirements the fiber in bathroom tissue should contain 100 percent recovered materials, including 20 percent post-consumer materials, while the fiber in facial tissue should contain 100 percent recovered materials, including 10 percent post-consumer materials.

Recovered paper cannot be de-inked using a solvent containing chlorine, or any chemicals listed by the U.S. EPA under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act. Chlorine and its derivatives are also not to be used in the bleaching process. Green Seal states the product (not including packaging) should also not contain any added ingredients, inks, dyes, or fragrances.

GS-1 requirements also state that the core of a roll of bathroom tissue or the box used to package facial tissue must be made from 100 percent recovered fiber. Packaging also cannot not contain inks, dyes, pigments, stabilizers, or any other additives to which any lead, cadmium, or hexavalent components must not be more than 100 parts per million by weight.

Under Green Seal's GS-9 requirements, the fiber in paper towels and napkins should contain 100 percent recovered materials and at least 40 percent post-consumer material by weight. Chlorine and its derivatives are also not allowed in the bleaching process.

According to Green Seal, paper towels and napkins should not contain any added pigments, inks, dyes or fragrances, and the core of a roll of paper towels must be manufactured from 100 percent recovered fiber. The packaging of paper towels and napkins must also not exceed 100 parts per million by weight of concentrated levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium.

Recovered material used to manufacture paper towels and napkins also cannot not be de-inked using any solvents listed by the U.S. EPA under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act.



The EcoLogo Program is designed to support a continuing effort to improve and maintain environmental quality by reducing energy and materials consumption. It also is focused on minimizing the impacts of pollution generated by the production, use and disposal of goods and services.

EcoLogo takes a multi-attribute, lifecycle approach to developing its standards. All attributes are given the same level of attention, which for sanitary paper includes recycled content, solid waste, resource and energy consumption, measure of organic pollutants in water, and aquatic toxicity.

While some organizations measure environmental performance using proxy measures such as minimum recycled-content requirements, EcoLogo measures a paper manufacturer's mill performance, mill efficiency and pollution levels. These measures are included in a load point" measure that is used to determine environmental preference.

The load point system looks at environmental performance and improvement by way of resource consumption such as recycled content and other fibers, energy consumption, chemical oxygen demand, a test used to measure the amount of organic compounds in water and how much treated waste matter is coming from a mill. The system also looks at sub-lethal toxicity, a measure of toxicity to aquatic organisms and net solid waste — what goes to a landfill. The system then gives credit to mills for any waste that is prevented from going to landfill.

The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA)


The CFPA is an independent not-for-profit accreditation and standard setting organization. Its focus is promoting sustainable manufacturing practices, implementing advanced technologies free of chlorine chemistry, and educating consumers on alternatives.

CFPA acknowledges the need for third-party chain of custody for raw materials, audits of processes, and works towards promoting certified sustainable manufacturing.

The CFPA's Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative guidelines for processed chlorine free tissue and towels state that no chlorine or chlorine compounds can be used in the papermaking process; all virgin components need to be certified as totally chlorine free — paper does not use pulp produced with chlorine or chlorine compounds containing bleaching agents.

Tissue and towels also are required to have a chain of custody, which details the entire history of the paper, from harvesting to production.

The mill must also define post-consumer content, have no current or pending violations or use old growth forest — forests that have not been disturbed by logging — for any of the virgin pulp.

The paper product also must contain at least 30 percent post-consumer content.



Green-e is an independent certification for renewable energy products and purchases. The organization verifies paper manufacturers' purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and certifies the RECs to ensure they meet strict environmental and consumer protection standards.

RECs are created when a renewable energy facility generates electricity. Each unique certificate represents all of the environmental attributes or benefits of a specific quantity of renewable generation, namely the benefits that everyone receives when conventional fuels, such as coal, nuclear, oil, or gas, are displaced.

Under the Green-e Energy criteria, electricity used in mills to produce paper products must come from eligible sources of supply such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, or low-impact" hydropower. Only new renewable facilities can be used — ones built since 1997; electricity can't be used to fulfill a state renewable energy goal; and marketing to consumers must be accurate.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)


The intent of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is to shift the market to eliminate habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples and violence against people and wildlife that often accompanies logging.

FSC accredited, independent third-party certification bodies certify forests. They assess forest management using the FSC's principles, criteria and standards, and each certifier uses their own evaluative process. Certifiers evaluate both forest management activities (forest certification) and tracking of forest products (chain-of-custody certification).

In order for paper manufacturers to use the FSC logo as an environmental claim on paper products, the product must come from a FSC-certified forest, and the paper manufacturer must also have FSC chain-of-custody certification.

If a distributor wishes to sell and promote paper products as FSC-certified, it must apply for a FSC chain-of-custody certificate.

The FSC Chain-of-Custody standard ensures FSC certified wood is accounted for as it passes along the supply chain. It also ensures that when FSC certified wood is mixed with other wood, the non FSC certified wood does not come from controversial sources. The standard also provides for use of recycled/reclaimed material and provides a range of on-product and promotional labeling options.

Green Restaurant Association (GRA)


The goal of this national, non-profit organization is to encourage the better use of natural resources and the reduction of waste production in the foodservice industry.

The GRA provides an endorsement program for the best environmental products in the restaurant industry. There are six GRA Endorsement Standards and toilet tissue, hand towels and napkins are identified under the association's Disposables category.

According to GRA standards, all paper products must be processed chlorine free and meet post-consumer waste criteria.

Napkin requirements vary depending on the style of the product. For example, dinner napkins and beverage napkins require 60 percent post consumer waste, but dispenser napkins require 90 percent post-consumer waste because they are more apt to be over-used or wasted, according to the GRA.

For paper towels, both roll and multifold require 85 percent post-consumer waste.

Toilet paper requires 60 percent post-consumer waste.