n the fall of 1989 Allen and Joanie wanted to write a protest letter to the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment about pollution from a pulp mill near where they lived. It seemed appropriate to write it on recycled paper but to their amazement they could find none for sale at stationery stores, health food stores, co-ops, head shops or anywhere in Vancouver, B.C. (There were no Eco-Stores in 1989).
We went to the major paper distributors to find out why they weren’t providing it, and we were told what became standard responses of “ nobody wants it,” “ it doesn’t work in copiers and presses,” “ it’s too expensive” and so on. Though they were right that it was more expensive and some of it wasn’t up to industry standards for printers and copiers, we were sure they were wrong about the public’s demand for and interest in alternative paper products. At the time environmental battles to save Clayoquot Sound and other remaining B.C. watershed valleys from logging, and the increasing awareness of the harmful by products of traditional paper manufacturing made for keen interest in alternatives.
With our small savings we purchased 6 cases of 50% recycled copy paper from a company in California (now closed) called Conservatree, and began to canvas local environmental groups to see if they were interested in trying some. The response was overwhelming.
Initially wanting to organize as a non-profit society to promote recycled alternatives we found this lacked the credibility needed to work with manufacturing mills and larger distributors so Paper Choice Recycled Papers was born, and we became the first company to introduce recycled paper alternatives in the Vancouver, B.C. area. By the summer of 1990 we had grown from a few cartons of paper stacked in the hallway of our apartment and a answering machine in the bedroom to a 3500 square foot warehouse and 7 employees. Our customers included printers, government offices and universities, and we spent a lot of time speaking to purchasing departments, sitting on environmental committees and educating ourselves and others about the paper industry and changes that could and needed to be made. In 1991 we received awards from the Ministry of Environment (even though they still weren’t using recycled paper themselves) and several environmental groups for the work we were doing.
While we were zealously spreading the word our lack of business experience began to show. By 1991 one the national paper distributors, who had scoffed at us a year earlier when we asked them to bring in recycled paper, became the exclusive Canadian reps for the mill that we had been buying our paper from. This meant we could no longer buy “mill direct”. Our costs increased significantly because we now had to buy from our competitor and, of course, the new distributor would undercut our pricing on any major order. It felt pretty bad when this happened but after a long walk and talk we gained some perspective that has guided us through all the years Paper Choice has continued to survive.
- we never intended to be a traditional company so don’t feel badly about our business naivete
- that when bigger companies move in on the markets we created it is a victory, not a loss, because it means we’ve accomplished our goal of getting recycled paper accepted and marketed by mainstream companies, and
- there was still lots of work to be done.
With renewed focus we resolved to look beyond the 50% recycled chlorine bleached paper that was the standard recycled sheet at the time. After some research we found a mill in Wisconsin that was making a 100% recycled printing paper in rolls for web press printing, only they weren’t telling anyone its recycled content because they felt it was a disadvantage in the market place. We began buying truckloads of this paper, shipping it to a converter in Washington State to be cut to sheets and introduced the first 100% recycled sheet in Canada. Within two years we were also able to source an unbleached paper from Germany and a tree-free (non-wood fibre) paper from Hungary. So while our “niche” continued to shrink we were able to continue to provide environmental consumers with the best possible paper alternatives and continue to work with larger distributors to make these alternatives more generally available.
In 1994 we began to produce a line of consumer stationery products that you see featured on our website today. This brought us full circle because now we are making 100% recycled, chlorine free paper available to the average consumer, which is all that we wanted to buy for our own use when we started out 5 years earlier.
As 100% recycled, chlorine free paper has become more available Paper Choice has been able to expand its line of stationery products. Though we are a much smaller company then we were, we continue to offer our customers the assurance that they are getting the best possible environmental alternatives rather then the minimum necessary to be labeled “recycled”. Over the years we have witnessed that consumer demand is the most important step in creating changes in the paper industry and Allen and Joanie continue in their commitment to help educate and inform while making alternative products more readily available.
Paper Choice is starting it's 21st year promoting environmental alternatives. It is still a family owned and operated business, now being run but their loving daughter, Joelle.