Though chlorine has traditionally been used in paper products to whiten pulp the chemical poses risk to human and animal life as well as the ecosystems in which its waste is reposited. Fortunately, there are now ways to whiten paper without the use of chlorine yielding products of equal brightness and quality without harm.
There are three classifications of reduced chlorine content that, from a sustainability perspective, are recommened in this order: (1) Processed Chlorine Free, (2) Totally Chlorine Free, and (3) Elemental Chlorine Free. Here's why:
1st Choice: Processed Chlorine Free (PCF)
Products labeled Processed Chlorine Free use the Totally Chlorine Free whitening process on post-consumer recycled paper. Although they are manufactured without the use of chlorine or its derivatives, some of the material may contain trace levels of chlorine due to the fact that some of the post-consumer base-material may have been originally processed with chlorine. Overall, however, this is the most environmentally friently option for paper products given the importance of using post-consumer recycled raw materials instead of virgin pulp.
2nd Choice: Totally Chlorine Free (TCF)
Products labeled Totally Chlorine Free are made from virgin tree pulp or other virgin fibers that are not bleached with chlorine or cholirine derivatives. Because the process uses virgin resources instead of post-consumer recycled content this is only recommended when PCF options are unavailable.
3rd Choice: Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF)
Products labeled Elemental Chlorine Free use a chlorine compound (often chlorine dioxide) that significantly reduces harmful chlorine dioxins but does not eliminate them. Paper companies using ECF often say that dioxin is "nondetectable" in their wastewater. This refers only to the sensitivity of prescribed tests, and does not necessarily mean there are no dioxins. State-of-the-art tests are often able to detect dioxins when prescribed tests find them nondetectable. Some ECF mills go beyond simply bleaching with chlorine dioxide. If they have added "extended delignification" and do part of their processing with ozone or oxygen or other non-chlorine brighteners, they can further reduce their potential for producing dioxins. Though preferable to conventional products that do nothing to avoid chlorine in processing, ECF products are the least sustainable choice among reduced chlorine products and should only be chosen when PCF and TCF options are unavailable.
For more information on the use of chlorine in the bleaching process we suggest you visit Conservatree.org here.