How Groundwood and Uncoated Freesheet (UFS) Paper Stack Up

September 28, 2020

We often hear people – particularly those involved in tax supported bids – are confused about the difference between groundwood and uncoated freesheet (UFS) paper. They encounter groundwood products positioned to have comparable performance (and sometimes preferable environmental qualities) to UFS papers, but at a lower cost. Make no mistake, those cost savings come at a price that every buyer should understand before they purchase.  

Here’s what you should know:

Production

UFS pulp is made by treating wood chips with alkaline chemicals and heating them under pressure to dissolve the cellular walls that hold the fiber together. The word “free” in the name of the product refers to the fact that the pulp in the paper is free of groundwood.

Alternatively, groundwood pulp is made by grinding wood chips into small particles. In this process, lignin and other impurities are not chemically removed.

Quality

UFS paper constitutes the largest category of printing and writing paper and is commonly used by schools and businesses.

UFS does not yellow or become brittle when stored under normal conditions. Additionally, because the pulping process results in long fibers, the paper tends to be stronger and more rigid than groundwood paper.

Alternatively, as the lignin in groundwood paper deteriorates over time it produces acid, causing the paper to yellow and become brittle. Because of this, groundwood paper does not meet archival standards and is most commonly used to make products such as newspapers.

Sustainability

Lastly, from a resource usage standpoint, groundwood paper and UFS paper differ greatly.

Let’s start with the energy used to make each type of paper. In both processes, the entire tree is used – it’s just a matter of where. In the groundwood process, the whole tree – including both the wood fiber and other non-fiber elements – ends up in the paper itself. In the UFS process, the non-fiber materials are removed and used as fuel, which reduces the need to use non-renewable fossil fuels. While the groundwood process includes the entire tree in the final product, its grinding process is more energy-intensive and may require electricity generated from non-renewable fossil fuels.

Another element of the process is the water used to make each type of paper. In the groundwood pulping process, water usage is lower. However, in both pulping processes the water that is utilized is cleaned and returned to its source.

And finally, while UFS paper is recyclable at any paper recycling facility, groundwood paper is not accepted at all paper recycling facilities. This is because groundwood fibers contaminate the recycling stream and can result in dark spots and imperfections.

At Boise Paper, we are committed to ensuring every product we make adheres to the high standard of quality that you’ve come to expect. To learn more about our commitment to responsible wood fiber sourcing, sustainable forestry, and quality, visit our environmental sustainability page.

 

“Paper: Printing and Writing Paper,” American Forest & Paper Association; “Groundwood Paper,” Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online.

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