On the packing or in the documents that describe a paper’s characteristics there are symbols that indicate certain aspects of the material purchased, both in terms of sustainability and the materials used, and even the production process used to make them. However, first of all we need to know that there are two types of certifications. Firstly, there are the official ones, granted by a European or worldwide regulatory organisation governed by internationally-established standards (generally the ISO) and with agencies in each country to adapt them to the national regulations. In this case, the certificate of compliance they offer is the same for all countries, irrespective of the auditing institution.
Then there are other unofficial certifications in which independent audit organisations verify compliance with certain standards or measurements and issue a specific certification of approval, which may vary depending on the issuer, although the same aspects are rated in different companies. Knowing this basic difference, we shall now take a look at the main certifications that may be issued to paper manufactured in our country.
FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council): This indicates that the paper fibres come from a sustainable operation, with trees planted for industrial uses, that the enterprise engages in forestry management compliant with good practices and that the activity furthers the area’s socio-economic development. In order to obtain this certification, the origin of the fibres purchased by the paper-manufacturing company is verified, as well as that the amounts tally, and finally the existence of a process-wide traceability system is confirmed. This certification was created by the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent and non-governmental non-profit organisation established in Toronto in the 1990s. In Spain, this certification is awarded by FSC Spain.
PEFC (Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification): This is another onon-governamental organisation (created in 1999) which verifies the sustainability of the forests from which the fibres are obtained, and establishes that at least 70% of the raw materials used must come from certified forestry operations. The certification is issued on the basis of the product’s entire life cycle, from the manufacturing process through to transportation and distribution.
REACH: This acronym pertains to the Regulation(CE) Nº 1907/2006,, applied throughout Europe, and which pertains to the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. It certifies that heavy metals are not used in the product, which is important in preventing the absorption of these elements through a person’s skin, for example when they hold a book or a packaging in their hands.
Recyclable (Möbius strip): It indicates that the material can be recycled to give it a second lease of life. Each one of its arrows denotes the three steps in the process: the collection of the material, recycling and the purchase of recycled products; meaning that the strip or circle is closed and recommences. Finished products can only contain a percentage that indicates the percentage that is recyclable. As a rule, for paper it would be 100%.
Vegan: This certification guarantees that no animal-origin material was used to manufacture the product. It is not only a question of the base pulp used in the formation of the paper, which is not an issue as it is obtained from wood, but mainly the pigments added to give the material colour, which in some cases may come from animals.
GMO (Genetically Modified Organism): It is seldom applied or applicable, since it is used to certify that the papers were not manufactured with organisms whose DNA structure was modified through biotechnology. For example, we hold this certificate for a paper comprised of oranges to indicate that they are not transgenic.
ECF (Elemental Chlorine-Free): The inclusion of the certificate in paper means that it is “elemental chlorine-free”, meaning that the pulp was not bleached with chlorine gas or elemental gas but rather by chlorine dioxide. In other words, an element that generates toxic chlorolignins in the bleaching is eliminated, meaning that the process does not harm the environment and the level of chlorine derivatives in the material’s composition is less than 0.8 kg per ton.
Acid-Free: This certification guarantees that no type of acid was used in the different phases of a material, in production or even in finishing through the use of glues containing this component. The papers have a pH 7 or greater, which symbolises neutral acidity (the range of 0 to 7, on the other hand, would show that the material is acid).
Long-Life: When a paper bears this logo, it means that it is compliant with the ISO 9706 standard and the material will have a minimum established duration and they are known as “permanent papers”. This is guaranteed by means of a pH between 7.5 and 10 and an alkali reserve that does not surpass 2%, as well as a 5% limit on semi-chemical pulp.
PH Neutral: As we saw in the previous cases, this certification indicates that the entire manufacturing processes of the paper used a water reserve with neutral pH, which is 7 on the scale. The more acid values lie above pH 7 and the more alkaline ones below it. This is because the salts present in the aqueous base required in the production phases have an effect on the material.
Alkali Reserve: As we also commented in the last set of environmental certifications, a paper’s alkali reserve must be less than 2% as per the ISO 9706 standard. The purpose of introducing this substance into the manufacture of the cellulose substrate (generally through magnesium or calcium carbonate) is to neutralise the acidification of the materials over time and therefore ensure that they will last for many more years.
EN 71: The certificate based on this standard guarantees that the material can be used in the manufacture of children’s toys at no risk to them, thereby totally guaranteeing their safety. This would apply to those made with paper, either partially or entirely.
Ecolabel: This enviormental certificate was introduced by the European Union in 1992 and is symbolised by its legendary flower. Materials with this logo must be manufactured with at least 10% of fibres from certified plantations. In other words, it is used to recognise ecological products and to distinguish those with the least impact on the environment.
EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme): This certification denotes that the paper-manufacturing company has an environmental management system in place geared towards ongoing process improvement, for which purpose it undergoes comprehensive audits. Although the recognition provided by this certificate does not guarantee that the product is better for the planet than another one that does not hold it, it does prove that the company has taken certain measures to achieve this.
ISO 14001: In the same line as the previous one, this certification proves that the paper-manufacturing company has procedures in place targeting the ongoing improvement of its environmental management system.