Want to know the difference between TCF and PCF? The history of the chasing arrows? Here's a brief overview of labels, symbols and definitions to help guide eco conscious design and paper choices.

Recycled paper terms:

PCR–Post-Consumer Recycled or PCW (Post-Consumer Waste)
Refers to paper that was printed on or used for its intended purpose, put into a recycling bin & then recycled into new paper or products.

PCW–Post-Consumer Waste [see above]
Note that the term "fiber" is often used instead of waste.

Pre-consumer waste
Paper or scraps left over from manufacturing, converting or trimming in the mill or print house. It may also include unsold magazines & newspapers. Although the paper and scraps are being reused, this paper has never made the journey to the consumer and back again.

Recycled paper 
Currently there is no global consensus on what the term "recycled paper" means beyond the fact that it may contain either post or pre-consumer fiber. Just saying that paper is recycled is not enough, as this could vary from 1% to 100%, but not necessarily from post consumer waste paper that has actually been recycled.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided guidelines for purchasing or procurement for a variety of goods, including printing and writing papers. These guidelines, in combination with Executive Orders from various Presidents regarding federal agency acquisitions, specify that federal agencies are required to purchase and use papers that contain at least 30% post-consumer fiber.

In the absence of other national standards, many local and state governments, along with paper mills, have adopted the EPA's purchasing policy recommendations for defining recycled content, and have introduced and marketed grades using this guideline as a minimum standard for recycled content.

Tip: Look for sheets that provide the breakdown of post-consumer waste and pre-consumer waste content. Naturally, papers that are 50-100% PCW (post-consumer waste) are more significant environmentally.

Forest certification: paper

Ancient Forest Friendly (AFF) 
In order for a paper to be able to carry the Ancient Forest Friendly logo, a paper must be manufactured with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled fiber or agricultural residue. Any virgin fiber used in the paper must be both FSC certified and assessed as not originating from endangered forests. Bleaching must be chlorine free. 

The Ancient Forest Friendly logo and wordmark is managed by Canopy, (formerly Markets Initiative), a Canadian not-for-profit that works collaboratively with large paper consumers (book, magazine or newspaper publishers) to guide them to change paper buying habits and to develop and implement paper policies that help safeguard ancient and endangered forests. Companies that have an eco-paper policy with Canopy may use the logo on applicable papers. 

To learn more about the Ancient Forest Friendly designation and approved logo usage, or to view a database of papers with AFF designation, visit

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) 
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the worlds forests. The FSC sets high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way. 

Products carrying the FSC label are independently certified to assure consumers those products come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations. For more information contact

Additional certification: standards for recycled content and reduced environmental impact

ECOLOGO Certified products, services and packaging are certified for reduced environmental impact. Standards include building materials, cleaning products and personal care products, office products, electronics, and others, including pulp and paperboard.

Green Seal
Green Seal is a non-profit organization that uses science-based programs to empower consumers, purchasers and companies to create a more sustainable world. Green Seal has set standards for a variety of products and services, including paper products.

Alternative or Tree free papers:

Think of paper made from tree free sources; roasted java, bananas, cotton rags or recovered denim scraps, agricultural fibers, hemp, flax or kenaf, a member of the hibiscus family.

Designers can play a role in keeping the interest and demand for tree-free or alternative fibers high by using or requesting these papers and supporting new products when they become available. See the RESOURCES & ECO LINKS section on this site. 


Rethink inks

Commercial ink formulations and the printing process typically relies on a variety of compounds and chemicals: solvents in ink formulations or press washes, colorants containing pigments and metals, "vehicles" or carriers containing resins and binders (often petroleum based), additives used to accelerate drying, and more. Some of these products contain hazardous ingredients or materials and must be handled or disposed of properly. Others contribute to pollution or global warming. Thus, due to the industrial nature of inks and press materials, it is difficult to label them as eco-friendly. Currently there is little or no consensus as to how to make inks with less environmental impact, and there is no chain of custody process for suppliers like there is in the paper industry in relation to responsible forest management/certification.

New printing technologies and ink formulations are constantly being developed, and ink manufacturers are striving to create formulations that not only perform well on press, but also have reduced health, environmental and resource impacts. This includes research into: renewable raw materials; the reduction of pollutants and emissions at various stages of the production and printing process; the energy and resources used to grow/source/manufacture/transport/cure or dry inks; strategies to eliminate toxic, carcinogenic or hazardous materials, including those that might be found in waste ink and recycling sludge; the biodegradability of ink and press room materials; carbon footprints or carbon labeling of products, etc.

Ongoing developments in ink formulations include hybrid inks, agri-based or bio-derived inks, inks with minimal volatile organic compounds (VOCs), water-based inks, and solid, light-curing ink formulations that dry instantly. While it might be tempting to choose one kind of ink for every type of project, it is important to address the unique needs of each project and to regularly liaise with ink representatives and printers. This will assist designers with keeping up to date with ink formulations and trends, and help with specifying the ink and substrate combo that will have the least environmental impact across each project's life-cycle.

Agri-based inks

Many inks contain agri-based or vegetable-based oils and materials in their formulations, including linseed oil, tung oil, castor oil, soya oil, etc. Agri-based or vegetable-based ink formulations contain varying amounts of bio-based, renewable oil content, and often replace some, but not necessarily all, of non-renewable petroleum oil. While choosing an agri-based ink can reduce VOC emissions, there are some inks available on the market today that have lower VOC emissions than traditional soy-based or agri-based inks. For example, UV/EB inks are solid inks that emit minimal VOCs while curing instantly when exposed to ultraviolet light or electron beams.

Bio-derived Renewable Resource Content (BRC Index)

The National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), in conjunction with the NPIRI Environmental Impact Task Force has initiated a program for calculating and reporting the percentage of bio-derived, renewable content of an ink as delivered to the printer, including a NAPIM registered label for use by the printer on the printed product. The NAPIM website provides a list of bio-derived materials, a database list, licensing agreement for use of the label, and additional resources:


For an ink manufacturing company to be eligible to apply the Printed with Soy Ink SoySeal to its packaging or literature, the soy products used must meet certain minimum requirements for soybean content. The percentage of soy oil content varies, from 7 to 40 percent, depending on the type of ink formulation and printing process. The American Soybean Association (ASA), in conjunction with the ink manufacturing industry, has established standards for soybean content for printing.

VOCs (volatile organic compounds)

VOCs are often derived from petroleum and are found in chemicals used for ink formulations, plate or film processing chemicals, press washes, and other pressroom materials. VOCs are the precursors of ozone and a component of urban smog.

Tip: As with any graphic design medium or material, it is important to be mindful of inks and press room products and their related health, socio-environmental and resource impacts throughout their life cycle. Consult with printers to determine the most sustainable ink or printing process for the job, and where feasible, review the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for a particular product to help guide purchasing decisions from a health and safety point of view. (Remember, some inks or press room materials are manufactured overseas with less stringent environmental or health and safety criteria).

Keep in mind that specifying inks made from agri-based or bio-derived materials (instead of petroleum derived materials) or low VOC inks may reduce environmental impact from a petroleum or emissions point of view, yet it is also crucial to consider other aspects when choosing inks.

Consider the following before you go press:

  • How crops and other raw materials for inks and press room materials are sourced and manufactured (some conservationists are concerned about the environmental impacts of soya crops grown in rainforests and the related clear-cutting and socio-environmental impacts)

  • VOCs and emissions, the water and energy usage for each printing technology (UV inks may have minimal solvents, but require more electricity/energy to power equipment)
  • The eco-footprint of sourcing, transportation and manufacturingThe end-of-life impacts such toxicity, biodegradability, recycling and reuse 

More tools for change:

For extensive and detailed eco logo information, green graphic design tips and sustainable business practices, see the contributions made by Dion Zuess of ecoLingo for the book Sustainable Graphic Design: Tools, Systems and Strategies for Innovative Print Design.

Contributing Editor Wendy Jedlicka gathered a wide range of content from sustainable design pioneers and practitioners including graphic designers, creative managers, marketing consultants, environmentalists, researchers, and psychologists. Published by global publisher Wiley, the book provides thought provoking information regarding leading edge materials and processes, sustainable design thinking, green workflows, and sustainable business practices.

© This information has been compiled by ecoLingo® for educational purposes. Sustainability practices, certification processes, descriptions, and web links change. 

To obtain the most up-to-date information and resources contact the organization directly.