The environmental impact of paper is significant, which has led to changes in industry and behaviour at both business and personal levels. With the use of modern technology such as the printing press and the highly mechanised harvesting of wood, disposable paper has become a cheap commodity. This has led to a high level of consumption and waste. With the rise in environmental awareness due to the lobbying by environmental organizations and with increased government regulation there is now a trend towards sustainability in the pulp and paper industry.


The production and use of paper has a number of adverse effects on the environment which are known collectively as paper pollution. Pulp mills contribute to air, water and land pollution. Discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35 percent by weight of municipal solid waste (before recycling).[1] Even paper recycling can be a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during de-inking.[2]

According to a Canadian citizens organization, "People need paper products and we need sustainable, environmentally safe production."[3] The amount of paper and paper products is enormous, so the environmental impact is also very significant. It has been estimated that by 2020 paper mills will produce almost 500,000,000 tons of paper and paperboard per year,[4] so great efforts are needed to ensure that the environment is protected during the production, use and recycling/disposal of this enormous volume of material.

Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year.[5]

Worldwide, the pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for four percent of all the world's energy use. The pulp and paper industry uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry.[6]


Main article: Deforestation

Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400% in the past 40 years, with 35% of harvested trees being used for paper manufacture. Plantation forest, from where the majority of wood for pulping is obtained, is generally a monoculture and this raises concerns over the ecological effects of the practice.

Deforestation is often seen as a problem in developing countries but also occurs in the developed world. Woodchipping to produce paper pulp is a contentious environmental issue in Australia.[7] In the 1990s, the New Zealand government stopped the export of woodchips from native forests after campaigning by environmentalists.[8]

Air pollution Edit

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are all emitted during paper manufacturing. Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are major contributors of acid rain, whereas CO2 is a greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.

Water pollutionEdit

Wastewater discharges for a pulp and paper mill contains solids, nutrients and dissolved organic matter such as lignin. It also contains alcohols, and chelating agents and inorganic materials like chlorates and transition metal compounds. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can cause or exacerbate eutrophication of fresh water bodies such as lakes and rivers. Organic matter dissolved in fresh water, measured by Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), changes ecological characteristics, and in worst-case scenarios leads to death of all higher living organisms. Waste water may also be polluted with organochlorine compounds. Some of these are naturally occurring in the wood, but chlorine bleaching of the pulp produces far larger amounts.[9]

Recycling the effluent (see black liquor) and burning it, using bioremediation ponds and employing less damaging agents in the pulping and bleaching processes can help reduce water pollution.

Discharges can also discolour the water leading to reduced aesthetics. This has happened with the Tarawera River in New Zealand which subsequently became known as the "black drain".[10][11]


Paper waste accounts for up to 40% of total waste in the United States, which adds up to 71.6 million tons of waste per year in the United States alone.[12] Paper waste like other wastes faces the additional hazard of toxic inks, dyes and polymers that could be potentially carcinogenic when incinerated, or comingled with groundwater via traditional burial methods such as modern landfills. Paper recycling mitigates this impact, but not the environmental and economic impact of the energy consumed by manufacturing, transporting and burying and or reprocessing paper products.

Wood pulping processEdit

Chlorine and chlorine-based materialsEdit

Chlorine and compounds of chlorine are used in the bleaching of wood pulp, especially chemical pulps produced by the kraft process or sulfite process. Plants using elemental chlorine produced significant quantities of dioxins.[13] Dioxins are persistent organic pollutants that are generally recognized among the most toxic human-released pollutants in existence. Elemental chlorine has largely been replaced by chlorine dioxide and dioxin production very significantly reduced.[14][15]

As a result, from the 1990 onwards the use of elemental chlorine in the delignification process was substantially reduced and replaced with ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) and TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) bleaching processes. In 2005, elemental chlorine was used in 19–20% of kraft pulp production globally, down from over 90% in 1990. 75% of kraft pulp used ECF, with the remaining 5–6% using TCF.[16] A study based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data concluded that "Studies of effluents from mills that use oxygen delignification and extended delignification to produce ECF (elemental chlorine free) and TCF pulps suggest that the environmental effects of these processes are low and similar."[17] Most TCF pulp is produced in Sweden and Finland for sale in Germany,[14] all markets with a high level of environmental awareness. In 1999, TCF pulp represented 25% of the European market.[18]

TCF bleaching, by removing chlorine from the process, reduces chlorinated organic compounds to background levels in pulp mill effluent.[19] ECF bleaching can substantially reduce but not fully eliminate chlorinated organic compounds, including dioxins, from effluent. While modern ECF plants can achieve chlorinated organic compounds (AOX) emissions of less than 0.05 kg per tonne of pulp produced, most do not achieve this level of emissions. Within the EU, the average chlorinated organic compound emissions for ECF plants is 0.15 kg per tonne.[20]

However, there has been disagreement about the comparative environmental effects of ECF and TCF bleaching. On the one hand, paper and chemical industry-funded studies have generally found that there is no environmental difference between ECF and TCF effluents.[21] On the other hand, independent peer-reviewed study has found that, comparing conventional, ECF and TCF effluents before and after secondary treatment, “TCF effluents are the least toxic”.[22]

Sulfur, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxideEdit

Main article: Kraft process

S-based compounds are used in both the kraft process and the sulfite process for making wood pulp. Sulfur is generally recovered, with the exception of ammonia-based sulfite processes, but some is released as sulfur dioxide during combustion of black liquor, a byproduct of the kraft process, or "red liquor" from the sulfite process. Sulfur dioxide is of particular concern because it is water soluble and is a major cause of acid rain. In 2006 the pulp and paper industry in Canada released about 60,000 tonnes of sulfur oxides (SOx) into the atmosphere, accounting for just over 4% of the total SOx emission from all Canadian industries.[23]

A modern kraft pulp mill is more than self-sufficient in its electrical generation and normally will provide a net flow of energy to the local electrical grid.[24] Additionally, bark and wood residues are often burned in a separate power boiler to generate steam.

Air emissions of H2S, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, and other volatile sulfur compounds are the cause of the odor characteristic of pulp mills utilizing the kraft process. Other chemicals that are released into the air and water from most paper mills include the following:[25]

Bleaching mechanical pulp is not a major cause for environmental concern since most of the organic material is retained in the pulp, and the chemicals used (hydrogen peroxide and sodium dithionite) produce benign byproducts (H2O and, eventually, sodium sulfate, respectively).

However, the bleaching of chemical pulps has the potential to cause significant environmental damage, primarily through the release of organic materials into waterways. Pulp mills are almost always located near large bodies of water because they require substantial quantities of water for their processes. An increased public awareness of environmental issues from the 1970s and 1980s, as evidenced by the formation of organizations like Greenpeace, influenced the pulping industry and governments to address the release of these materials into the environment.[26] Environmental NGO pressure was especially intense on Swedish and Finnish pulp and paper companies.[27]

Conventional bleaching using elemental chlorine produces and releases into the environment large amounts of chlorinated organic compounds, including chlorinated dioxins.[9] Dioxins are recognized as a persistent environmental pollutant, regulated internationally by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Dioxins are highly toxic, and health effects on humans include reproductive, developmental, immune and hormonal problems. They are known to be carcinogenic. Over 90% of human exposure is through food, primarily meat, dairy, fish and shellfish, as dioxins accumulate in the food chain in the fatty tissue of animals.[28]

Non-renewable resourcesEdit

Clay or calcium carbonate are used as fillers for some papers. Kaolin is the most commonly used clay for coated papers.


File:080826 Waste Paper.jpg

Some of the effect of the pulp and paper industry can be addressed and there is some change towards sustainable practices. The use of wood solely from plantation forests addresses concerns about loss of old growth forests.


The move to non-elemental chlorine for the bleaching process reduced the emission of the carcinogenic organochlorines. Peracetic acid, ozone[29] and hydrogen peroxide and oxygen are used in bleaching sequences in the pulp industry to produce totally chlorine free (TCF) paper.


Main article: Paper recycling

There are three categories of paper that can be used as feedstocks for making recycled paper: mill broke, pre-consumer waste, and post-consumer waste.[30] Mill broke is paper trimmings and other paper scrap from the manufacture of paper, and is recycled internally in a paper mill. Pre-consumer waste is material that was discarded before it was ready for consumer use. Post-consumer waste is material discarded after consumer use such as old magazines, old telephone directories, and residential mixed paper.[31]

One concern about recycling wood pulp paper is that the fibers are degraded with each and after being recycled four or five times the fibers become too short and weak to be useful in making paper.[32]

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has found that recycling causes 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than making virgin paper.[33] Pulp mills can be sources of both air and water pollution, especially if they are producing bleached pulp. Recycling paper decreases the demand for virgin pulp and thus reduces the overall amount of air and water pollution associated with paper manufacture. Recycled pulp can be bleached with the same chemicals used to bleach virgin pulp, but hydrogen peroxide and sodium hydrosulfite are the most common bleaching agents. Recycled pulp, or paper made from it, is known as PCF (process chlorine free) if no chlorine-containing compounds were used in the recycling process.[34]

recycling one ton of paper could save a 105/4 cubic meter lake, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 84 gallons of oil, 4,100 kwh of energy, a 34/2,025 acre forest, 16,523/1,168,000 metric tons or 41/25 tons of coal, enough energy to power the average home for 6 months, a CFL for 1,271/5,840 years, 587 pounds of air pollution, enough oil to run the average car for 1,260 miles or circle the globe almost 94,080 times, 54,000,000 Btu's of energy, 37/20 tons of wood, a tree that is 25/29,997 miles in diameter, a 2,520,000 cubic meter lake from being polluted, 275 pounds of S, 350 pounds of limestone, 9/2 tons of steam, 63/2 tons of green house gases, 185 gallons of gasoline, 820/7 metric tons of Pb, keep 41/40 pounds of Hg out of landfills a year, 336 acres of soil from being polluted, 550 pounds of SO2, 98 tons of resources, 1,312/5 pounds of fly ash, a 3,525/1,066 cubic meter container of fossil fuels, 41/390 metric tons of H, 54,981/40,000 tons of biomass, 13,889/1,500 metric tons of carbon monoxide, 13,889/7,500 metric tons of nitrogen oxide, 6,109/8,000 tons of C, 360 pounds of salt cake, a 20,250/9,169 cubic meter container of propane, 76 pounds of soda ash, 41/39 metric tons of Zn, 123/100 tons of coke, (240 - 320)/909 decibels of sound, 442/2025 tons of dust each year, 1,050/13 metric tons of global warming, over 54,981/3,664,000 tons of smog, 19,188/4,925 tons of acid rain, 37/2 kilograms of benzene, 1,147/5,000 pounds of VOCs, 51 pounds of particulates each year, 1,275/8 cubic meters of rain, 68 pounds of ozone each year, 900/323 tons of NH3, 54/19 tons of methanol, 37/20 tons of climate change, 289 pounds of clay, 20 pounds of dye and pigments, 108 pounds of starch, 410/7 pounds of haze, 369/25 pounds of NOx, 680/219 pounds of CFC, 123/100 tons of pitch, almost 1,620 pounds of hydrocarbons, 6,109/64,120 tons of PETN, 287/25 tons of nitrate, 111/8 pounds of NO2, 150/49 metric tons of sulfuric acid, 123/25 tons of nitric acid, a 405/278 cubic meter tank of diesel fuel, 700 pounds of bleach/wood-ash, 164/25 kilograms of nitric oxide, 45/2 tons of hydrogen peroxide, 1,480 pounds of water vapor, 18,327/4,000 tons of Cl, 819/500 pounds of soot, 6,109/2,000 tons of 1,3-butadiene, 6,109/4,000 tons of butane, 200/11 tons of ethylene glycol, 328/5 pounds of sulfur oxide, 175 pounds of calcium oxide, 1,845/523 metric tons of trinitrotoluene, 41/17,500 pounds of Cd, a 405/268 cubic meter container of kerosene, 164/195 metric tons of Si, 333/80 tons of sawdust, 41/220 grams of Pu, 300 pounds of herbicides, 27,000/22,159 tons of N, 99/1,330 tons of potassium hydroxide, 497/4 pounds of Ca, 72 pounds of Ag, 1,350/433 tons of wood fuel, 1,400,000 bugs, 41/16,000 micrograms of Template:Polonium, 82,000/693 tons of Zr, 250-300 kilograms of kaolin, 9/4-27/10 metric tons of by-product, 41/140 tons of Al, $1,866.00 and gain 440 pounds of sludge, almost 221/100 tons of O per year, 175/438 years of time

(Over 17 trees can provide new wildlife habitat and shade in almost 425/24 places and absorb almost 425/24 tons of co2 over the course of their lives, 5,312,500/2,061 gallons of oil, and enough energy to power over 289/96 cars for a year)

(37/20 tons of wood could save 33,300,000 BTUs of heat energy, over 12,321/34,000 tons of CO2 a year, enough energy to power a 333/34 bedroom house for an entire year, over 209,457/3,400,000 cars for a year, $199.80 in energy)

recycling one metric ton of paper could save a 12,150,000/37,843 cubic meter lake, 3/2 metric tons of greenhouse gases, 7π/5 gallons of oil, 31 trees, enough energy to power 21π/104 cars for a year, one car to travel 21π miles, a 42,000π cubic meter lake and 28π/5 acres of soil from being polluted, 1,147/340 tons of wood, 1,860 pounds of air pollution per year, 395 kilograms of methane, 163/300 metric tons of co2, 1,304/3 square meters of natural habitat potential, 163/900 metric tons of fossil fuels, 815/9 kilograms of carbon monoxide, 4,075/3,036 tons of steam, 163/125 metric tons of life, 2,771/180,000 metric tons of solid particles, 163/9 kilograms of nitrogen oxide, 163/880 metric tons of coal, 163/573 metric tons of ethanol, (26-93)/50 grams of chloroform, almost $660.00, and gain almost 403/100 tons of O per year

(1,147/340 tons of wood could save over 381.951/578,000 tons of co2 each year, enough energy to power one home for 1,147/2,040 years, 309,690/323 homes for one year, 10,323/578 bedroom house for an entire year, one home for almost 3,441/1,156 years, 381,951/578 power strips, almost $365.00)

(Over 31 trees could provide new wild life habitat and shade in almost 775/24 places, And absorb almost 775/24 tons of co2 over the course of their lives, 9,687,500/2,061 gallons of oil, and enough energy to power over 527/96 cars for a year, one car to travel 48,437,500/687 miles.)

recycling one carton of paper could save 102 gallons of H2O, 350/229 gallons of oil, 21 pounds of co2, a 3/1,250,000 square kilometer or 2/3,375 acre forest, a 105,00,000/229 cubic meter lake and 1,400/229 acres of soil from being polluted, enough energy to power over 357/200,000 cars for a year, one car to travel 5,250/229 miles, 111/1,700 tons of wood, 36 pounds of air pollution per year, 189/170 gallons of biodiesel, 3,969/6,800,000 tons of glycerol, $15.30, gain almost 156 pounds of oxygen per year

(111/1,700 tons of wood could save enough energy to power 2,997/238,000 homes, one home for 37/3,400 years, 5,994/323 homes for one year, 999/2,890 bedroom house for an entire year, one home for almost 333/5,780 years, 36,963/2,890 power strips)

(over 3/5 trees could provide new wild life habitat and shade in almost 5/8 places, And absorb almost 1,250 pounds of co2 over the course of their lives, 62,500/687 gallons of oil, and enough energy to power over 17/160 cars for a year, one car to travel 312,500/229 miles, over $13,645.00)

recycling one ream of paper could save 51/5 gallons of water, 35/229 gallons of oil, 21/10 pounds of co2, a 3/12,500,000 square kilometer or 1/16,875 Acre forest, a 1,050,000/229 cubic meter lake and 140/229 acres of soil from being polluted, enough energy to power over 357/2,000,000 Cars for a year, one car to travel 525/229 miles, 222/17 pounds of wood, 18/5 pounds of air pollution per year, $1.53, gain almost 78/5 pounds of oxygen per year

(222/17 pounds of wood could save enough energy to power 2,997/2,380,000 homes, one home for 37/34,000 years, 2,997/1,615 homes for one year, 999/28,900 bedroom house for an entire year, one home for almost 333/57,800 years, 36,963/28,900 power strips)

(Over 3/50 trees could provide new wild life habitat and shade in almost 1/16 places, And absorb almost 125 Pounds of co2 over the course of their lives, 6,250/687 gallons of oil, and enough energy to power over 17/1,600 Cars for a year, one car to travel 31,250/229 miles, almost $1,365.00.)

recycling one sheet of paper could save 51/2,500 gallons of water, 7/22,900 gallons of oil, 21/5,000 pounds of co2, a 1/8,437,500 acre forest, a 2,100/229 cubic meter lake and 7/5,725 acres of soil from being polluted, enough energy to power over 357/1,000,000,000 cars for a year, one car to travel 21/4,580 miles, 111/4,250 pounds of wood, enough energy to power 2,997/807,500 homes for a year, 3,996/17 btu's of energy 9/1,250 pounds of air pollution per year, gain almost 39/1,250 pounds of oxygen per year

(Over 3/25,000 trees could provide new wild life habitat and shade in almost 1/8,000 Places, And absorb almost 4 ounces of co2 over the course of their lives, 25/1,374 gallons of oil, a 125,000/229 cubic meter lake from being polluted, and enough energy to power over 17/800,000 cars for a year, one car to travel 125/458 miles.)

recycling one sheet of A4 paper, could save a 375/37,843 cubic meter lake, 31/200,000 trees, enough water to fill 14/3,595,085 olympic sized swimming pools, 1,147/34,000 pounds of wood, 10,323/34 BTUs of heat energy, 93/10,000 pounds of air pollution per year, over 31/100 pounds of co2, 500/7 grams of Template:Caesium, gain almost 403/10,000 pounds of oxygen per year

(Over 31/200,000 trees could provide new wild life habitat and shade in almost 31/192,000 Places, And absorb almost 31/96 pounds of co2 over the course of their lives, 775/32,976 gallons of oil, and enough energy to power over 527/19,200,000 cars for a year, one car to travel 3,875/10,992 miles, a 494,375/687 cubic meter lake from being polluted.)

sometimes one sheet of paper saves 3 gallons of H2O, 1 gallon of ethanol, 45¢

Recycled Paper and Paper MillsEdit

Recycling as an alternative to the use of landfills and recycled paper is one of the less complicated procedures in the recycling industry.[35] Although there is not a landfill crisis at this point in time, it is commonly believed that measures should to be taken in order to lower the negative impacts of landfills, for many hazardous elements are produced and spread because of this enclosure of trash.[36] Most recycled paper is priced higher than freshly made paper, and this tends to plays a deciding factor for the consumer.[37] Because most of the recycled pulp is purchased in an open market, virgin paper is produced cheaper with the pulp that was made by the specific paper mill. Virgin paper contains no recycled content and is made directly from the pulp of trees or cotton.[38] Materials recovered after the initial paper manufacturing process are considered recycled paper. Because that original standard was so vague, some “recycled papers” contained only mill scraps that would have been included in virgin paper anyway.[39] Standards have recently been set to prevent companies from making it seem like they were selling recycled paper. The collection and recycling industries have fixated on the scraps of paper that is thrown away by customers daily in order to increase the amount of recycled paper.[35] Different paper mills are structured for different types of paper, and most “recovered office paper can be sent to a deinking mill”.[40] A deinking mill serves as a step in the recycling paper process. This type of mill detaches the ink from the paper fibers, along with any other excess materials which are also removed from the remaining paper. In the deinking mill, after all of the unwanted coatings of paper are stripped, the refurbished paper is sent to the paper machine.[41] The old scraps are now constructed into new paper at the paper machine. Many papers mills have recycled business papers by transforming the old business papers into beneficial letters and envelopes.[41] The production process for recycled paper is more costly than the well-developed paper mills that create paper with the use of trees. This process in making recycled paper is also much more time-consuming. However, recycling paper has a multitude of benefits from an environmental perspective.[42] “For all the state-of-the-art technology now incorporated into modern paper mills, the industry's underlying structure is still based upon a worldview that was transformative in the 19th-century but is out-of-date as the 21st century approaches”.[40]


“The Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Guidelines are technical reference documents with general and industry specific examples of Good International Industry Practice (GIIP)” .[43] In simpler terms, the EHS is what helps develop the federal regulations on industries and companies that require factories that have the potential to cause a great amount of harm to society and the environment. These Guidelines for the environment, health and safety list out the specific rules for the paper mill industries that explains what they need to follow in order to limit the pollution that is consequently distributed and by the mills.[43]

Mechanical pulp millsEdit

Main article: Pulp mill#The mill

Wood pulp produced primarily by grinding wood is known as "mechanical pulp" and is used mainly for newsprint. These mechanical processes use fewer chemicals than either kraft or sulfite mills. The primary source of pollution from these mills is organic material such as resin acids released from the wood when it is processed. Mechanical wood pulp is "brightened," as opposed to bleached, using less toxic chemicals than are needed for chemical pulps.


Three main issues with the environmental impact of printing inks is the use of volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and non-renewable oils. Standards for the amount of heavy metals in ink have been set by some regulatory bodies.[44] There is a trend toward using vegetable oils rather than petroleum oils in recent years due to a demand for better sustainability.

Deinking recycled paper pulp results in a waste slurry which may go to landfill. De-inking at Cross Pointe's Miami, Ohio mill in the United States results in sludge weighing 22% of the weight of wastepaper recycled.[45]

In the 1970s federal regulations for inks in the United States governed the use of toxic metals such as Pb, As, Se, Hg, Cd and hexavalent chromium/Cr.[46]

See alsoEdit


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  5. Environment Canada (1996). "National Pollutant Release Inventory, 1996."
  6. "Paper, Printing & The Environment." Archived September 1, 2010 at the Wayback Machine Earth Greetings Co., Glandore, South Australia. Accessed 2010-07-26.
  7. Open Mind Research Group on behalf of their client Environment Victoria (1994-12-4). "Woodchipping to Japan - Joint Environment Group Commissioned Public Opinion". Forest Fact File. "Newspoll - December 1994 - To the Question "Next a question about native forests. Do you personally approve or disapprove of trees from Australian's native forests being fell and exported as woodchips to Japan? 80.3% of Australians disapproved, 11.7% approved, 8.0% undecided."
  8. Woodchipping in New Zealand
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  13. Script error Catalog no. En40-215/2E
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  17. Paper Task Force (1995). "Environmental Comparison of Bleached Kraft Pulp Manufacturing Technologies."Script error White paper no. 5. Joint publication of Duke University, Environmental Defense Fund, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Prudential Insurance Company of America and Time Inc.
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  25. Tilman, Anna (2008). "Pulp and Paper Pollution: The Toxic Legacy of Federal Neglect." Reach for Unbleached Foundation, Comox, BC.
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  27. Auer, Matthew R. (1996). "Negotiating toxic risks: A case from the Nordic countries," Environmental Politics 5: 687-699.
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  35. 35.0 35.1 ["Recycled Fiber Paper: Longevity Study." N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.]
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  43. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Environmental.2C_Health.2C_and_Safety_Guidelines_Pulp_and_Paper_Mills
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  46. National Association of Printing Ink ManufacturersScript error

Further readingEdit

Case Studies

Industry Profile

Life Cycle Assessment

New Technologies

External linksEdit

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