A Day in the Paper Life of Average Joe

Bright morning sunlight streams through the windows. Joe Consumer, dressed for another day at the office, pops his favorite coffee pod into the machine before sitting down at the kitchen counter for a bowl of cereal. He silently marvels at the amount of marketing messages crammed onto a single cereal box, and then moves on to help proofread Joe Jr.’s history essay.

”Uh, oh,” cries Joe Jr. next to him, orange juice spilling over the laminate countertop and onto the floor. Joe quickly reaches for a paper towel to mop up the mess, careful not to let the puddle of juice pool on the new flooring tiles too long. On his way to an 8 o’clock meeting at the office, he gives everything a last-minute pass with a disinfecting wipe, kisses Joe Jr. on the head, and rushes out the door and to his car, where the engine purrs to life powered by the pasting paper in the battery.

The breakfast dishes aren’t even dry and Joe Consumer’s had more touch points with paper—and cellulose fiber-based products—than he could ever hope to recall.

While paper towels and cereal boxes easily pop into his mind, others, such as the cellulose fiber substrate helping to strengthen the wear layer in flooring tiles, might never register with him. Likewise, the coffee filter inside his favorite coffee pod, the cloth-like feel of a wipe, and the thin layer of paper on which his countertop design is printed may never float across Joe’s paper consciousness.


Production of Glatfelter tea and coffee filter paper is enough to brew 250 billion cups of tea and 15 billion cups of coffee every year.

In the minds of most Americans, “paper,” it could be argued, is limited to the notebooks, photocopies, mail, and envelopes crossing their desks and cluttering their countertops on a daily basis. Average Joe is simply not aware of the wide variety of paper contributing—in some ways subtle, others profound—to his daily life.

The fact that paper—and the fibers that make up paper-based products—continues to permeate the lives of Joe (and Jane!) Consumer in fresh and unique ways is the result of innovative paper manufacturing companies discovering new applications and new markets in a mature industry.

Ken Miller, national account manager with Glatfelter, a global paper manufacturing company headquartered in York, Pennsylvania, confirms paper use has evolved beyond just printing-type grades. “Even though in some cases it’s (paper) hidden, the evolution of the paper life cycle has changed—I’d even say accelerated— to where Glatfelter and our customers are always finding new uses and new markets,” says Miller.

He points to emerging economies in India and China, where growing discretionary incomes from a burgeoning middle class are fueling greater consumption for the tea bag and coffee filter markets at remarkable speed.

Each day, 40 percent of Americans use a product that contains a paper or fiber component made by Glatfelter. “When I tell neighbors, friends, and family members I sell paper, they think of rolls of paper that go into books, envelopes, and other things around their home or office. Then I tell them who some of our customers are—3M, Proctor & Gamble, and Unilever—and they start to realize they have so much of our product in their household and they didn’t even know it,” says Miller.

Joe at Work

It’s 9 a.m. and Joe cradles a second cup of coffee in his hand, this time in a paper cup from the office break room, as he quickly reviews the to-do list sticking slightly askew off his computer monitor. He grabs the latest contracts from a file folder on his desk and gets to work.

Hours later and reviews complete, Joe sticks the final contracts in an over-sized mailing envelope to be mailed on his way to lunch. He grabs his brown lunch bag out of the refrigerator and meets up with his coworkers outside.

In the push to go “paperless,” particularly in office environments, the role of paper continues to evolve for Joe Consumer. He does his best to recycle, but otherwise doesn’t give it much thought.

“The paper industry has kind of gotten a bad rap when it comes to some of the environmental concerns,” says Scott Hider, vice president of Clampitt Paper Company headquartered in Dallas. He notes that while the mills have done a good job using recycled materials and their own materials for energy, word [about forest stewardship] is slow to get out to the general public. “There are more trees now in the United States than there were in 1900.”

Miller is also quick to note that the paper industry is working to achieve a goal of 65 percent recovery of cellulose fiber every year. “Without recycled fiber, and without trees, the paper mills don’t sustain themselves,” says Miller. “So, for every tree that’s harvested, the industry is replanting two to three the next year.”

Solely considering print on paper used for consumer promotions, Hider says, “Paper still is the viable option,” noting the higher customer response rates that continue to be generated by paper advertisements, delivering more bang for the buck. “Where paper has really become kind of exciting is the ability to move people to the Internet with a printed piece.”

Using print on paper as one example, it’s interesting to note just how many paper decisions are made on any printed piece long before it even lands in Joe’s hands. Designers, paper buyers, and printers all take into account what they—and the end consumer— want the piece to look, feel, and act like. Smooth or rough textured, shiny or matte finish, easy to fold or strong enough to mail. Hider notes paper qualities are different for each application and often depend on consumer preferences. For example, higher-end pieces might go on a brighter sheet with a great surface and ink holdout. At other times, cost and runnability—the performance of the paper as it’s being printed—are key components.

“When I tell people I sell paper, they say, ‘Really? That doesn’t sound like much fun,’” says Hider. “But when you look at it as to all the different products that are available and different resources that we have, it’s pretty astounding.”

Day’s End

Work is done for the day, and Joe stops at the neighborhood pub with his coworkers for one quick drink. They celebrate landing the big account with a round of bottles of beer, each frosty-cold bottle sporting a metalized paper label. Joe then heads home, where he’s promised Joe Jr. a ruthless round of gin rummy on a new deck of playing cards after dinner.

But first he must pay the bills and get them stamped in time for the morning’s mail. At long last, Joe settles into bed, finishing the final chapters of John Grisham’s latest novel before nodding off to sleep on his pillow-top mattress.

Paper is not all work and no play. Decks of playing cards are produced on Glatfelter paper, an area of business that, according to Miller, remains steady with the expansion of casinos throughout the country.

Ace of Spades

One ton of Glatfelter paper makes about 12,000 decks of playing cards or 15,000 stamps.

Joe might be surprised to know everything from his mattress and upholstery padding to his kids’ diapers and shoe inlays are also secret sources of paper. They contain airlaid materials based on a paper manufacturing process in which fibers are carried and formed to the structure of paper by air rather than water, as in traditional paper making.

However, traditional papermaking continues its strong tradition 150 years later at Glatfelter. As the largest producer of uncoated bulking book papers in the United States, the company plays a subtle role in helping shape the novels and textbooks on bookshelves everywhere. Traditional carbonless papers (for items such as business forms and receipts) and security papers (for items such as money orders and voting ballots) are also in demand.

The role of paper is as diverse as the industry itself. From countertops and adhesive tape to simulated leather and wet wipes, paper continues to quietly adapt to and improve the lives of average Joes everywhere.

Joe’s sleep does not last. He stirs in the night, restless, yet tired. Wandering into the kitchen, he makes himself a cup of sleepy-time tea before shuffling back to bed. He can count sheep—or all the ways paper enhances his life every day. Either way, he’ll fall fast asleep long before he’s done.