Thursday, April 02, 2009

What's In Your Newspaper?

by Shannon Binns, Green Press Initiative, and Shiloh Bouvette, Markets Initiative for the Paper Planet

What’s in your newspaper? It might not be what you think.

It’s easy to assume that a newspaper is a closed-loop product given that it makes it's way from your doorstep to your kitchen table and then, most likely, into your recycling bin. However, your newspaper might contain less recycled content that you think: on average, North American newsprint contains only 30-35 % recycled content and currently there are no industry-wide targets or standards for increasing recycled content in the US or Canada. In some regions of the world, such as the UK, industry targets have resulted in an average of over 80% recycled content in newspapers.

Despite declining circulation of large daily papers, the newspaper industry still has a huge impact on our climate and our forests. Due to its sheer volume, newsprint comes with a heavier climate and ecological footprint than any other paper grade. In 2008, North American demand for newsprint alone was about 8,000,000 tonnes. Of newsprint produced in Canada, the vast majority of the fiber originates from old growth Boreal forests primarily in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Newsprint originating from the US is mostly sourced from the biologically diverse Southeast, which has the richest temperate forests and freshwater ecosystems in the world.

Some tout that newspaper is made from wood-chips, a so-called by-product of the timber harvest, so it’s not driving this fragmentation of our forests. This is simply not true: more than half of the trees chipped in the Boreal are specifically for paper products. Newsprint also accounts for 30% of the total pulp and paper production capacity in this region. Newsprint is also one of the highest volume paper products originating from the US Southeast, where five million acres are logged by the paper industry each year and 15% of the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests have been converted to biologically sterile, single species tree farms. These plantations are often managed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides and as a result support 90-95% fewer species of plants and animals than the original forest they replaced.

Replacing virgin tree fiber with recycled content is by far the best way for publishers to reduce their carbon and biodiversity footprint. If the publishing sector is to address it’s contribution to climate change and global deforestation, they must be prepared to advocate for an expanded paper recycling market through additional collection and recycling capacity.

Non-tree fibers such as agricultural waste are also an innovative opportunity for relieving pressure on forests. Pulping agricultural waste fibers comes with about half the ecological footprint of using virgin tree fiber. And processing them into paper is less energy intensive and requires less water. The good news is that organizations such as Markets Initiative are currently coordinating pilot trials of papers containing agricultural residue.

While many large daily newspapers are transitioning to an online format, weekly and smaller, community-based daily papers will continue to thrive for the foreseeable future. We have the responsibility and opportunity to ensure that what’s in these papers has a minimal impact on our forests, our climate, and our communities.

Editors Note: This is the sixth 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.

1 comment:

AnDeH said...

nice entry.. .

-Andeh, Malaysian-