The problem with chlorine in paper:
In today’s world, chlorine is everywhere: it’s in the water we drink, in our pools, in our washing machines and even in our paper. Its smell even brings a common perception of safety and cleanliness. So, what’s the problem with using chlorine in paper and all the buzz about being chlorine free?
Well, first of all, making paper requires a lot of water. To make a bright white sheet of paper, chlorine – or its derivatives – is often used and remains in the water released in the environment, oftentimes in rivers also used by people to fish, swim, relax…
Chlorine unleashed in the environment is the cause of many problems. It’s a very toxic compound created by man that produces dioxins, furans and many other very-hard-to-pronounce pollutants called the Dirty Dozen. Even if released in very low levels, they accumulate over time as the planet is not able to “process” them. So they get absorbed by aquatic plants, by marine life and by us.
Serious health issues
The main health concern about chlorine is that we are not able to eliminate it when it’s ingested. It accumulates inside our bodies and it is stuck in our fat. Coming from the water we drink, or the fish we eat, the amount of chlorine in our system grows day by day, year after year.
After some time, it causes numerous health problems for some people, including different kinds of cancers, reproductive problems, genetic damages and immune system suppression. In other words, nothing good.
And what about ECF?
Getting back to paper, the most interesting fact about ECF – Elemental Chlorine Free – is that it is a norm, based on laws, for most developed countries. This means that North American paper manufacturers in compliance with regulations can claim to be ECF. It’s therefore very common and nothing to be proud of. Claiming ECF as an environmental attribute for paper is like proudly displaying “low in fat” on a bag of carrots: a boring truth.
It’s different for paper coming from a developing country, where environmental standards are less than acceptable. Because ECF is not a requirement, manufacturers that reach that level do more than is mandatory.
Are there solutions?
Chlorine and its derivatives are everywhere in our daily lives, but there are solutions to distance ourselves from them. There are alternatives and they are mainly based on technologies using the much more environmentally friendly oxygen. I’ll spare you the technical details, but there are choices available to the average person, such as preferring salt water swimming pools, oxygenated water, oxygen-based cleaning products…
I don’t know if you should stop drinking chlorinated water (I personally try not to whenever possible), but for paper, the answer is easy. There are high-quality and affordable recycled chlorine free papers in the market, such as Rolland Enviro. Indeed, an organization was created, the Chlorine Free Products Association, that certifies paper so consumers can make the best choice. These papers truly make a difference for the environment. Have you tried them? You should, it’s worth it.