Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's In Your Magazine Paper?

by Keaty Gross of the Green America Better Paper Project for the Paper Planet

Magazine paper uses similar resources to office, book or newsprint paper: wood fiber, water, energy, and a variety of minerals and chemicals.
The distinguishing characteristic of magazine paper is the use of printer-applied coatings to prevent smudging and to provide a desirable finish. "Better papers" achieve a comparably low environmental impact through the use of recycled fiber or agricultural residue, low carbon energy sources, low/no impact coatings and chlorine alternatives such as oxygen delignification.

There are two environmental questions that should be factored into the printer-applied coating selection process: What is the environmental impact of the coating’s production/application? -and- How does the coating affect the magazine’s recyclability? The best option for the environment is no coating, but since that isn’t realistic for most newsstand publications, how can magazines choose the most responsible coating?

  • The benefit of varnish is that it potentially has the lowest toxicity and is highly recyclable, but it may yellow over time. It comes in gloss, dull and satin, and can be tinted by adding pigment to the varnish. Because varnish is essentially ink without pigment, it requires its own printing unit on press.

  • The benefit of aqueous is that it will not yellow over time, may emit fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than varnish and is more environmentally friendly than UV coating because it is water based; however, it does contain trace amounts of ammonia and costs nearly twice as much as varnish.

  • The benefit of UV is that it provides greater protection and color stability than the other two varieties of coating, and because it is cured with light and not heat no solvents enter the atmosphere. Unfortunately, its durability and chemical resistance also make it the most difficult to recycle.
The ideal printer-applied coating would be one that provides the protection required for the magazine, separates easily so that the paper can be recycled into new paper, uses little/no fossil fuel energy and whose ingredients are benign, but currently there is no clear choice that fulfills all of these needs. After evaluating their options, publishers base their decisions on the relative importance of their brand’s environmental integrity, the appearance of their magazine, and cost considerations. Increased public attention to environmental standards will hopefully galvanize publishers to reevaluate what finish best suits their content or at least experiment with various coatings to achieve a similar style. Some may even opt to use different coatings for newsstand versus subscription issues.

Until better coating options become available, the Better Paper Project encourages publishers to ask their printer about the environmental impact of their coatings, engage them in the selection process and employ creative problem solving to reduce coating use whenever possible. As in other aspects of publishing, it is important for publishers to work with their vendors to encourage continual environmental improvement during the printing process.

Note: This article deals exclusively with printer-applied coatings. Clay and latex coated papers are a related but separate topic.

Editors Note: This is the third installment in an 8 week "What's In Your Paper?" series on the Paper Planet focusing on specific sectors of the paper industry or paper from specific Endangered Forest regions. Subscribe or check back each Wednesday for a new posting in this series.


Anonymous said...

Excellent! We at the Dogwood Alliance have been in the midst of a campaign against unnecessary paper packaging in the fast food industry; our focus also extends to other paper-consuming industries, but this is a new one! Thanks for bringing this to attention.
- Laura

Jeff van Leeuwen said...

I work for a private biotechnology company called EcoSynthetix Inc. I believe we have a solution to the environmental issue you stated involving paper coatings. We have a product called EcoSphere®, which is basically a modified bio-latex. It can be used for many applications, including paper coatings. Our product is corn based, and is 100% biodegradable. I think it would be an ideal substitute for other paper coatings that are currently not environmentally friendly.

Currently, we are trying to increase industry awareness of our product, and are hoping to find a sufficient market demand. I recently joined the Better Paper Project, so feel free to check out my profile if you are interested and contact me if you wish to connect further.

- Jeff