Can Recycled Paper for Magazines Ever Compete on Costs? Yes…

Lots of magazines... but not much recycled paper
Lots of magazines... but not much recycled paper

Much has made about environmental impact of switching from paper books to electronic reading devices: a recent lifecycle assessment by environmental journalist Daniel Goleman shows that you have to read an awful lot of books to neutralize the environmental impact of producing and shipping that iPad or Kindle. Goleman’s advice: go the library.

But what about with magazines? You might think that electronic versions, especially read on a computer you already have rather than a new device you buy, might win out… after all, magazines usually go in the trash after you read them (only about 20% get recycled), they’re nearly all made from virgin fiber, and they’re usually produced and shipped monthly or weekly, so the carbon footprint has to be pretty high. All seem like good arguments for electronic version like Zinio… except that you might just really, really like the experience of the physical product.

So, what’s a greenie with a paper magazine jones to do? It may involve letting your favorite publications know that you’d like them to take a look at Illinois-based Futuremark, which is aiming to reduce the environmental footprint of the magazine industry greatly by developing glossy paper with up to 100% recycled content.

The environmental benefits should be a no-brainer here… going from almost no recycled content to almost all will save a lot of trees, right? Colleague and bud Derek Markham has a nice overview of the specific impacts Futuremark paper could have on magazine publishers’ footprint… and it’s pretty impressive.

But Won’t Recycled Paper Make My Magazines More Expensive?

That was my immediate thought… which was followed by “Good luck selling this to cost-conscious publishers getting hammered by the web.” But I checked in with Futuremark on this issue, and it turns out there’s no cost premium on this stuff.

Apparently, the higher price for most recycled papers comes from production processes: most paper makers are set up to use raw pulp as their feedstock, so adding recycled content into the mix decreases efficiency. Futuremark, on the other hand, focused on developing mills fed with post-consumer paper… so they don’t have to deal with the inefficiencies of other processes, and can sell their product at “completely comparable” prices to virgin paper.

No premium, no problem, right? Get the benefits of green PR without major increases in cost. The only thing to overcome is inertia, and a number of publishers are accomplishing that: Futuremark now supplies paper for Rachel Ray’s Everyday, Outside, and Taste of Home, as well as to other glossy paper users ranging from Campbell’s to Old Navy to Sam’s Club to Staples.

It’s a promising concept for reducing a heavy environmental load… I’ve already used the term “no-brainer,” but it seems really appropriate. And no need to strain your eyes on screen…

Am I missing anything here? Let me know… and check out other posts on Futuremark at Treehugger, Triplepundit, and Marc Gunther’s blog.

Green doesn’t have to mean more expense for your business. Check out our current listings of recycled paper, sustainable office furniture, and energy-efficient computers.

Image credit: PinkMoose at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  1. Helen Driscoll

    Hello Jeff,

    Futuremark is such a forward looking company, and everything should be done to support them.

    We all know that paper is second to energy in overall global footprint. Yet, the solution is to use 100% PCW paper; it is not to not use paper. Let me explain.

    Currently, approximately (can’t find exact stats) 97% of all the curbside paper that is picked up for recycling — is shipped to Asia. That is just not acceptable. 58% of all paper was recycled last year — it’s just not used in the US.

    There just a few paper mills in the US that make 100% PCW recycled paper – one just shut down months ago.

    Our business is one of the largest users of Genesis paper (100% post consumer waste paper) in the LA area. We are tiny. Small.

    The company who had made Genesis paper went into bankruptcy a few years ago. Genesis was bought by Mohawk paper, thank goodness.

    How do we establish the technologies for recycling post consumer fiber, if there is no market?

    This a really a big deal. If all the mills that make 100% PCW paper close, we have lost important product streams, technology, etc.

    The entire life cycle of paper must be thought through.

    Of course, everyone thinks paper has always been made from trees — yet only for the past 130 years. (Paper was invented 2200 years ago) – so only .05 of paper’s existence.

    TP, paper towels, magazines, all should use 100% PCW recycled paper.
    Great books, important documents, should be printed on hemp, linen or cotton. (archival to 1500 years)

    Yes, there is the cloud, yes there are enormous databases. One really giant solar flare, and it’s all knocked out.

    A lot to think about!

    Helen Driscoll
    (ex antiquarian book cataloguer)

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