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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Paper purchasing guide

Next to reducing the amount of paper you use, buying sustainably-made paper is the best thing you can do.

recycled content paper towelsrecycled content paper

How to buy green - the quick list:

  1. Recycled Content, aim for 100%.
  2. FSC certified.
  3. Process Chlorine Free (PCF).
  4. Made locally.

What to look for when buying paper:

1. Post-consumer recycled content 100% recycled content, 50% post-consumer

  • Try to buy 100% recycled content paper.
  • Aim for a minimum of 50% post-consumer recycled content or the next highest your supplier provides.
  • Why? Making paper from recycled content saves energy, water and trees, and reduces greenhouse gases, chemical use, solid waste, pollution and toxics [1].

2. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified

  • Buying Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified ensures that your paper products are not contributing to the destruction of forests worldwide.
  • FSC has three standards for paper products; look for the one that fits your needs:FSC logo
  1. FSC-mixed: fibers come from a combination of FSC-certified wood, controlled wood and recycled fibers [6].
  2. FSC-recycled: 100% of the fiber comes from post-consumer waste [6].
  3. FSC-pure: 100% of the fibers originated in FSC certified forests [6]. 

Note: You may also see products with Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification. SFI certification standards are not as comprehensive or robust as FSC [3]. 

3. Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) processed chlorine free logo

Why avoid Chlorine? Chlorine forms dioxins when it enters the environment after production. Dioxins are some of the most dangerous chemical compounds and can cause diabetes, hyperactivity, allergies, lower sperm count and can damage the immune and endocrine systems [4]. 

Processed Chlorine Free vs. Elemental Chlorine Free 

  • Choose Processed Chlorine Free over Elemental Chlorine Free.
  • Processed chlorine free means there are no chlorine containing compounds in the bleaching agent used in the recycling process [5,6].
  • Elemental chlorine free means the bleaching agents do not contain chlorine in its elemental form, but they can still produce dioxins in the environment. Regulation has reduced dioxins by 90%, but they still pose a problem in high enough doses [7].

4. Buy local 

  • Many paper products are made in the United States, including some in the Northwest.
  • American paper converting, based in WA State, has many options for recycled content paper towels.
  • Check out Living Tree Paper Co., based in Eugene, for a variety of sustainably made paper products.
  • Visit Canopy Planet’s Ecopaper Database to find sustainable papers available for purchase in North America. 

Want to learn even more about your paper?

Look for sustainability or corporate social responsibility reports from paper suppliers and manufactures.

Quick links


  1. Paper to Protect the Planet - Understanding How Recycled Content in Printing & Writing Paper - and All Grades- Reduces Energy, Water, Chemical Use, Pollution and Solid Waste, While Protecting Forests. Issue brief. Environmental Paper Network, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
  2. Kobernick, Phillip. “RPN Paper Standards Comparison Chart.” Responsible Purchasing Network, 2009. Web. Mar-Apr. 2015.
  3. SFI: Certified Greenwash. Rep. ForestEthics, Nov. 2010. Web.
  4. "Conservatree." Chlorine Free Processing. Conservatree, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
  5. "Dioxins and Their Effects on Human Health." Dioxins and Their Effect on Human Health. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
  6. “Chlorine Free Paper.” Paper Information and Resources. CAL Recycle, n.d. Web. May 2015. <>.
  7. “Dioxin.” Dioxin. US EPA, n.d. Web. Mar-Apr 2015 <>.

Research conducted in 2014.