Research Papers On Recycling

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Background: Assessment of the permanence of recycled paper is a current research area at the Library of Congress Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD). Awareness of environmental issues has led many countries to implement government mandates for recycling of postconsumer paper products. In the United States, Executive Order 12873, “Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention,” (1993) established new requirements for federal paper purchases; Section 504 requires the government to use printing and writing papers that include at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled material. While recycled paper has environmental and economic advantages, for libraries and archives, where long-term storage and use of written materials and records is critical, commensurate changes in optimum permanence properties raise concerns. One concern is that the shorter fibers produced by the recycling process, when included in the final paper stock, could contribute to a reduction in strength in the final paper product.

Current recycled paper research is focused on assessing the impact of recycled content percent, quality, repeated recycling) on papers’ mechanical properties, and chemical stability. This research will address the issue of whether papers containing post-consumer recycled fibers are less durable than similar papers produced from virgin fiber pulp, as well as the effect of varying amounts of recycled pulp (a minimum of 30%), on the longevity of records and other collection items printed on this paper.

Contributing Studies:

Nancy Bell, Jana Kolar, Dianne van der Reyden, Preservation in the Digital Age: A Discussion about Conservation in Libraries and Archives,   Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter, Fall (2007)

James H. Billington (Librarian of Congress), Trudy Huskamp Peterson (Acting Archivist of the United States), Micheal F. Dimario (Public Printer), Final Report to Congress on the Joint Resolution to Establish a National Policy on Permanent Papers, December 31, 1995. 

C.J. Shahani, S.B. Lee, F.H. Hengemihle, G. Harrison, P. Song, M.L. Sierra, C.C. Ryan, N. Weberg, “Accelerated aging of paper:  I: Chemical analysis of degradation products, II. Application of Arrhenius relationship, III: Proposal for a new accelerated aging test, ” Preservation Research and Testing Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, June (2000). 

Project Description: To meet the needs of the Library of Congress and other cultural institutions responsible for standards of permanence, and tasked with maintaining historical records for posterity, PRTD undertook research to determine whether papers containing post-consumer recycled fibers were less durable than similar papers produced from virgin fiber pulp. Congruent with PRTD policy and goals, test methods were non-destructive whenever possible, however samples were from non-Library collection sample paper types. Results are disseminated below through the Library of Congress Web site and other publications will be completed.

Accelerated aging is an essential tool to predict the long-term effects of natural aging and to assess longevity and stability of papers with recycled content. Current standard test methods use controlled-temperature aging at 90ºC and 50% relative humidity. A statistically significant population of samples was created, and careful mapping of research ovens ensured consistent conditions across test samples. Un-aged samples provided controls for recycled papers with different recycled fiber content. The critical component of the research was to compare the properties and performance of all samples with accepted specifications for permanent papers. Paper performance was assessed using physical properties, fold endurance measure of strength loss, and tensile testing for load at break and changes in extensibility. These measures provided information about changes in fiber structure within paper fiber assemblies as an indicator of long-term stability. Changes in visual appearance were measured through optical testing, assessing paper darkening or loss of brightness, and determining changes in color. Chemical testing used pH to assess acidity changes. Environmental Electron Scanning Microscopy captured high resolution images for analysis and surface morphology.


April 2015: An extensive report on recycled paper research [PDF:7.59 MB, 53 p.] at the Library has been completed.

A description of this research has been published: Fenella France and Matthew Kullman, Recycled Paper Research at the Library of Congress,   International Preservation News (48) 10-16. [PDF: 1 MB, 40 p. (entire issue)]

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