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National Geographic Explores Their World

By 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.

  1. 4 Responses to “National Geographic Explores Their World”

  2. By Frank Locantore on Mar 26, 2013 | Reply

    I am very pleased to see this discussion happening. What would be truly exciting and extremely helpful to all of us in the paper industry is to discuss and determine what are the important categories to evaluate in order to help the industry improve environmentally over time.

    Opportunity #1: Can the 14 impact categories in the ENVIRON International Corporation study help us in the paper industry measure our environmental baselines and improvements over time?

    Mr. Romano mentions a couple of categories that were not part of the study due to a lack of available information: biodiversity and carbon sequestration. As one of the stakeholders of the study group I can attest that everyone involved wanted to study those categories, but unfortunately the data didn’t exist.

    Opportunity #2: Can we collaborate on hiring the right experts to do this research?

    And, I should make one clarification. The study compared 100% virgin (kraft/mechanical mix) to 100% recycled in order to have a very clear comparison. There is never any mention of National Geographic switching to 100% recycled paper. I’ve never recommended that to them, and it is not part of the study. There is no disagreement from me that recycled fibers have a limited viable “life” of 7 or so uses, and we need fresh fiber entering the system.

    I am in no way “dissing” virgin fiber paper. Both recycled paper and virgin paper production have negative environmental impacts. The questions that I’m most interested in are which production processes have lower environmental impacts, for which metrics, why, and how can we continually improve by lessening those impacts over time?

    Frank Locantore
    Green America Better Paper Project Director

  3. By Pat Berger on Mar 27, 2013 | Reply

    Now lets take it one more step. Let ‘s look at the chemistry consumables used in printing. Most are all petroleum based releasing old sequestered carbon as well as many bioaccumulative substances.
    I think another study should be done on petroleum based consumables verses biobased renewable pressroom consumables.
    This study would show the extreme differences between new carbon consumable verses releasing old sequestered carbon consumables.

  4. By Frank Locantore on Mar 28, 2013 | Reply

    Another good opportunity for research, Pat. Like it.

  5. By Pat Berger on Mar 28, 2013 | Reply

    Frank there already has been some research done. The following is just one of many.

    Amerikal completed 90-Day BEES (BEES® -Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) Lifecycle Study with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), making BRIGL the first and only blanket and roller wash to achieve this status.

    The green certifiers should be looking for these studies seeing if they could be incorporated into their programs rules and guidelines.