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EARTHWATCH : Paper Trail : When it comes to giving paper a second life, even Hollywood has found a use for scrap paper.


Because curbside recycling hasn't reached my block yet, I virtuously schlep my old newspapers to the recycling center. It used to be that a car trunk load got me $5. Last week my efforts resulted in one lonely dollar. Despite the conventional wisdom, virtue is not its own reward. I want more of a quid pro quo.

I'm not sore at the recycler, really. He operates in the marketplace just like everyone else. And as readers of this column know, I am beady-eyed (rather dewy-eyed) about the connection between the environment and money. So what is going on in the recycled paper marketplace? (In a previous column I described the way office paper recycling works, but that involved the boss's pocketbook.)

The "consumer generated" scrap paper market is only temporarily glutted, it seems. As new mills for recycled paper come on-line next year, prices will stabilize up and down the manufacturing chain. State and federal laws have mandated a gradual switch to 50% recycled content when it comes to newsprint. I'm not counting on getting $5 trunk loads in the near future. But I'm going to go on schlepping for another reason: to keep that stuff out of the landfill. That'll spare me eventual monthly garbage pickup fees that threaten all of us if the new state garbage reduction law (AB 939) isn't observed.

Apropos newsprint: When they printed today's Times, only two out of 10 of the big rolls fed into the press were made of "virgin" wood pulp. The other eight--and its headed for 10 out of 10--contained a mix of 50% virgin fiber and 50% recycled paper. The Times is already the biggest consumer of recycled newsprint in America.

As for junk mail, paper packaging and magazines, this is known in the marketplace as "mixed paper." This stuff I hate. It's sort of a man-made version of the mosquito. You wonder what it's for. But unlike the mosquito there's an answer--finally.

Here's some background. About a year ago everybody discovered the waste crisis. Paper manufacturers went in for using "post consumer" scrap in a big way. Unisource, a major paper distributor in this county, carried three grades of recycled paper last year. Now, increased manufacturing activity has the firm carrying up to 10 grades and they're "on allocation." That means demand outstrips supply. Armando Torres, Unisource's man in Ventura, says, "It's not going to go away, like '73 and '74."

Also, prices have finally come down to the level nearly of "virgin" paper. Local printers report that government, service clubs and businesses (such as Patagonia) are specifying recycled stock for reports and catalogues.

I like this news. Environmental virtue should not be penalized financially. And the reverse should not be allowed either. Federal subsidies have made lumber-based paper manufacturing artificially cheap. But this year, new laws and vigorous entrepreneurship have changed that. When it comes to giving paper the second life it deserves, there are folks hereabouts who are doing well by doing good. (See details below) In fact, The Times has just learned that the topic of a new film Ted Danson is developing for Paramount Pictures is scrap paper.

At Procter & Gamble's paper plant in Oxnard, Charmin and Bounty are usually produced. These are top of the line products that use long-fiber virgin pulp. But when P&G and other manufacturers do "private brand" production for grocery store chains, it involves recycled paper and is labeled as such. P&G's Henry Racine, as droll and matter-of-fact as you'd expect a veteran paper maker to be, characterized this section of the business as "turning an aggravation into a contribution."

You can do likewise by checking out today's Details and buying recycled paper. You see, next week I'm loading my trunk with scrap paper again. Get out there and buy recycled. Make me rich.


For high quality retail or wholesale amounts of recycled writing, printing, Xerox paper etc., including fine stationery in Ventura:

* Unisource Paper Co. Self-Help Store, 4483 McGrath, Ventura. 642-3775.

* Kelly Paper Co., 4746 Market St., Ventura. 658-8901.

* Vons for napkins, tissues, towels by C.A.R.E. (Consumer Action to Restore the Environment)

* Lucky for similar products by S.T.A.R.T. (Save Tomorrow--Apply Recycling Today)

* Ralphs -- look for the new Greer Cross shelf tags identifying recycled paper products.

* Hughes and Boys Markets for Soft and Gentle tissue

* Target Stores for Mardi Gras towels and napkins.

Note: don't hesitate to ask any store for recycled paper products. They've become widely available in the last few months.

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