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Published on September 3rd, 2008 | by adamwilliams

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Individual Recycling Efforts Do Have Impact; Periodicals Are the Difference-Makers

Earlier this week I posted A By-the-Numbers Look at Paper Recycling. I posed the question of whether or not individual efforts to recycle paper adds up to an amount that can actually save trees.

As I researched some numbers to identify how much paper comes from one tree, I inadvertently kept a singular focus on corporate environments and office paper. It wasn’t until I later caught a reminding glimpse of the stack of magazines sitting on the night table next to my bed that I realized where, perhaps, the true impact lies: periodicals.

The simplified look at how much office copy paper it takes for one person to save a tree in one year is 33 sheets of paper per day. I figure that’s unreachable, at least for me, because I am selective about how much I avoid printing things unnecessarily — emails and other documents.

But magazines and newspapers — there are dozens and hundreds of pages per issue.

I cleared away the stack of magazines my wife and I had accumulated just in the last month. Here’s a list by magazine name and number of issues:

  • The New Yorker (3)
  • Ready Made (1)
  • Conde Nast Traveler (1)
  • Body + Soul (1)
  • Fashion Rocks (3)
  • Shutterbug (1)
  • Glamour (1)
  • The Atlantic (2; two months’ issues)

The total page count for all of these magazines equal more than 1,550. Of course, pages are double-sided, so the total sheet count is more than 775.

By-the-Numbers, How Much Does Recycling Magazines Help the Environment?

Going back to the source I used in the previous by-the-numbers post, as provided via Conservatree.org:

  • 1 ton of uncoated virgin (non-recycled) printing and office paper uses 24 trees
  • 1 ton of 100% virgin (non-recycled) newsprint uses 12 trees
  • A “pallet” of copier paper (20-lb. sheet weight, or 20#) contains 40 cartons and weighs 1 ton. Therefore,
  • 1 carton (10 reams) of 100% virgin copier paper uses .6 trees
  • 1 tree makes 16.67 reams of copy paper or 8,333.3 sheets
  • 1 ream (500 sheets) uses 6% of a tree (and those add up quickly!)
  • 1 ton of coated, higher-end virgin magazine paper (used for magazines like National Geographic and many others) uses a little more than 15 trees (15.36)
  • 1 ton of coated, lower-end virgin magazine paper (used for newsmagazines and most catalogs) uses nearly 8 trees (7.68)

Personal Impact By Recycling Magazines and Newspapers

Say that each of the magazines in my personal example fit the higher-end of virgin magazine paper, except The New Yorker.  (Maybe it does too, but I’ll err on the side of caution and will consider it more appropriate to place The New Yorker in the “newsmagazine” category.)

The personal example of magazines listed above is a partial month’s count for my household. The New Yorker is a weekly magazine. I’ve not named all magazines we get, nor counted catalogs that almost immediately go from the mail to our recycle bin.

The list above is just a glimpse of the amount of paper usage that we are playing a role in creating. And so it is only a glimpse of the responsibility — and opportunity — we have for recycling.

Using Conservatree’s numbers, the bottom line is this: By recycling our magazines, my household can easily save at least one tree that otherwise would be cut and processed to accommodate our desires for new magazine paper.

That also does not take into account the domino effect of the need of loggers to cut that one more tree  (multiplied by many, many thousands or millions for other magazine-reading households across the country and world). Nor does it take into account the trucking that is involved from logging to final product shipping — and countless other steps and impacts along the way.

Add newspapers, which also have dozens of pages (and multiplied for their size). Add whatever is used in other ways, such as office paper, junk mail, catalogs, household bills, etc.

It would seem that each household, in fact, can have a notable impact through recycling. Each one that recycles reduces the need to cut as many as several trees each year.

Is that not worth it just for the simple effort of dropping paper into the recycle bin instead of the trash can?

No inconveniences, no lost magazine subscriptions and no reduced productivity at work is necessary. It’s just a matter of where you aim your hand when you discard the paper, magazine or newspaper.

Related posts:

Recycling to Be Mandatory in San Francisco

Reduce, Reuse & Recycle Your Way to Lower Overhead

Want to Curb Global Warming? Start Recycling and Composting



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  • http://barrier-busting.com Nils Davis

    Thanks for running the numbers on magazine recycling. It’s good to know that something so simple has a non-trivial benefit.

    Did you happen to look into how recycled magazines are reused? Can they be turned into magazines again? Or do magazines always require ‘virgin’ paper?

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  • Robin Neal

    Thanks for this post, Adam. I just shared it with entire school. My students have been writing to their peers about making choices that lead to happier, greener lives, and your writing melded perfectly with theirs.

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