By Richard Romano on March 26th, 2013
Over at Dead Tree Edition, our friend Mr. Tree (if that is his name) turns the microphone over to Frank Locantore, Project Director of the Green America Better Paper Project, to discuss the highlights of a new study (pdf) commissioned by the National Geographic Society and conducted by Environ that attempts to gauge the environmental impacts of virgin vs. recycled paper. The conclusions?
1) The relative environmental impacts for deinked pulp are better than those for kraft or mechanical pulp in all environmental categories studied.
2) It isn’t demonstrated that it is better to use recovered fiber in non-magazine paper.
3) There are currently no significant limitations on recovered paper supply.
Well, you can see what would happen if the paper and printing industries switched over to 100% recycled paper—after all, recycled paper has to start out as virgin pulp. Also, too: you can only recycle the same pulp so many times (at most five times) before the fibers become unusable. So, there’s that. And what I would argue is an important issue for a magazine like National Geographic: is there any impact on the quality of the product? The hallmark of National Geographic is the quality of its photography and the printing of that photography. Is there a compromise in using recycled paper? (I’m not saying that there is, I am just putting the question out there.)
One qualification in the study caught my attention:
Other impact categories, such as biodiversity and carbon sequestration were not included, because supporting data and/or impact characterization factors could not be obtained within the project scope and available resources
Another important point—covered ad nauseam in this space—is that reducing the demand for virgin pulp may have a significant negative impact on certain elements of the environment, namely forests, forest health, biodiversity, etc. Trees used for wood products are crops and, like any crop, can be sustainably or unsustainably managed. Sustainably managed forests preserve forest health and biodiversity. The alternative—if demand drops to such a point that it is not profitable to manage the forests at all—is for forestry products companies to sell the forestland, where it could very well be destroyed for real estate development or other uses that don’t include trees. Not that that is inevitable, but land has value of course, and that value can either reside in the trees—or what can replace the trees.
Anyway, not to “dis” recycled paper; I am all in favor of using as much of it as is practical, but there are other issues involved. And given the perilous state of the paper and print publishing industries today, I’m not sure they are the biggest contributors to our environmental problems.