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What Are The Facts About ECF and TCF?

If you purchase paper products that contain bleached fibers, then the facts presented below are relevant to your decision making.

In the recent past there was public concern about possible human health and environmental effects associated with the then prevailing bleaching processes, using elemental chlorine gas. Today the use of elemental chlorine in bleaching has been drastically reduced and will be eliminated completely in the near future through the introduction of new bleaching processes, ECF (Elemental Chlorine-Free) -- pulp bleached with chlorine dioxide instead of elemental chlorine in the first stage of bleaching and TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free) -- pulp bleached using any chemical other than chlorine, chlorine dioxide and hypochlorite.

Questions and Answers

Q. What human health effects are caused by using ECF and TCF pulps in paper products?

A. When elemental chlorine gas was used, trace amounts of dioxins were inadvertently formed and were present in mill effluents. After conversion to ECF, dioxins were eliminated, i.e., no longer detectable. As a direct result, many of the fish advisories issued for receiving waters downstream of a few pulp mills are being lifted each year, eliminating a potential public health issue.

Q. What effects do the wastewaters from pulp and paper manufacturing using these processes have on the environment?

A. Research has shown the environmental risks to aquatic ecosystems from ECF bleaching are negligible and there is no toxicological difference between wastewaters generated from ECF-based or TCF-based bleaching [3,4,5,6,7,8,9]. "There is no appreciable environmental difference between TCF and ECF [3]."

Q. What about resource use and sustainability?

A. More trees are required to make paper with TCF compared to ECF. With TCF, 3-4% less paper is produced from the same amount of wood compared to ECF.

UPM-Kymmene Corporation, a Finnish company that makes both ECF and TCF stated [10]:

"UPM-Kymmene is presently observing about a 4% increase in hardwood consumption during the production of bleached hardwood kraft pulp with TCF method in comparison to the corresponding ECF production. In the case of bleached softwood kraft pulp production the increase in the wood consumption is about 3% in comparison to the ECF production. Lower number in the case of the softwood production is due to the lower brightness target of the TCF softwood pulp."

Q. What about the quality of the pulp for papermaking?

A. ECF uses very selective chemicals which produce superior quality at the high brightness the market demands. Today's TCF uses less selective chemicals and consequently many producers have been unable to produce comparable quality at high brightness. Damage to certain fiber qualities may compromise the end use.

Q. What about price?

A. Paper prices are dictated by the market, grade, and availability. Consult your supplier.

Q. What are the current trends in the marketplace?

A. In North America, ECF pulp production for papermaking increased to 53.1 million tonnes, totaling more than two thirds of the world market share. The balance is produced with some elemental chlorine.

In Canada, ECF totals 10.7 million tonnes, approximately 90% of Canadian production. In contrast, TCF production is negligible at 10,000 tonnes, showing no growth.

In the U.S., ECF has taken off, reaching 20 million tonnes in 2000 - accounting for 75% of U.S. production. TCF production lags far behind at less than 250,000 tonnes per year. The growth in ECF in the U.S. is expected to continue as mills come into compliance with the recently released EPA regulations for bleached pulp mills. EPA's regulations are based on ECF as a component of Best Available Technology.

In summary, with internationally acknowledged environmental parity between effluents from ECF-based and TCF-based bleaching processes established in 1994, the initial driving force for market demand for TCF was eliminated. Further growth of either product from 1994 forward depended on the traditional values of product quality and manufacturing cost. ECF-based bleaching produces higher quality with at lower costs. The market has spoken.

Q. Where can I get more information?

A. EPA's EPP website, the Blue Ribbon Task Force Print Buyer Guidelines, and the Paper Task Force Report website.



  1. Paper Task Force: Synopsis.

  2. Investor Responsibility Research Center. Social Issues Service. 1997 Company Report -- G:1. Time Warner Inc. April 18, 1997.

  3. "A Changing Future for Paper," International Institute for Environment and Development, commissioned by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 1996.

  4. Tana, J. and K-J. Lehtinen, "The Aquatic Environmental Impact of Pulping and Bleaching Operations -- An Overview." Finnish Environmental Institute. Helsinki, 1996.

  5. Solomon, K., Bergman, H., Huggett, R., McKague, B. and MacKay, D."A Review and Assessment of the Ecological Risks Associated with the Use of Chlorine Dioxide for the Bleaching of Pulp". Pulp & Paper Canada (1994).

  6. Bright, D. A., K., Hodson, P.V., Lehtinen, K-J., McKague, B., Rogers, J. and Solomon, K.."Evaluation of Ecological Risks Associated with the Use of Chlorine Dioxide for the Bleaching of Pulp: Scientific Progress Since 1993". Proceedings, 1998 International Pulp Bleaching Conference, Helsinki, Finland. June 1-4, 1998.

  7. Grahn, O. and Grotell, C. Swedish Environmental Research Group. "Effects in Model Ecosystems of Bleach Plant and Whole Mill Effluents from Production of TCF-and ECF-Bleached Softwood Kraft Pulp at the Södra Cell AB Mill Värö Bruk." September, 1995.

  8. Priha, M. 1994 Proceedings International Fate and Effects of Pulp and Paper Mill Effluents Conference. "Ecotoxicological Impacts of Pulp Mill Effluents in Finland." St. Lucie Press, Florida.

  9. Nelson, P., Stauber, J.L., Gunthorpe, L., Deavin, J.G., Munday, B.L., Krassoi, R. and Simon, J. 1995 Proceedings, International Non Chlorine Bleaching Conference . "Toxicity Testing of Effluents from ECF and TCF Bleaching of Eucalyptus Pulps." Pulp & Paper, San Francisco.

  10. Siro, M., "Response to the Questions presented by the Maine Legislature Committee on Natural Resources to Södra Cell AB of Sweden." May 16, 1997.