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Make the Switch

By Nicole Blake

It may seem hard to believe, but magazines come from trees!  And most often those trees have been around far longer than a magazine could ever hope to exist.  The lifespan of a magazine from the printer to the shelves, to the sweaty hands of a teen, to its inevitable disposal (hopefully in the recycling bin) is approximately one year. 

Scores of magazines continue to use paper containing fibre from trees found in old growth forests that have been around for more than a century.  A study from Co-op America’s Magazine PAPER Project says that less than 5 per cent of magazines use recycled content and, those that do, contain only 10-30 per cent of recycled material. Fibres from virgin trees are thrown into the mix, and added to a low dose of recycled paper. 

Trevor Geddis, quality assurance manager at Quebecor says there are many reasons for magazines to incorporate recycled fibre, “A lot of people like the recycled product because it’s environmentally friendly.  You’re not cutting down more trees to make paper you’re using old trees already broken down to make paper.”

Many Canadian magazines including Canadian Geographic, On Nature and Cottage Life are leading the way to ensure mills and printers are using eco-friendly paper, but still, many are lagging behind.
Other magazines are printed on high-end paper, using more energy, water, and trees from endangered forests. Alternately, recycled paper “uses a lot less energy, and is quicker,” says Geddis.

But there is a downside to a high content recycled paper, says Geddis, “It doesn’t perform as well on [printing] presses as a virgin stock, it’s not as strong, and it doesn’t have the same glosses or the same smoothness.”

Geddis says the real advantage of recycled content, is that it is no doubt “friendlier to the environment.” But it’s up to publishers to make that change.

Here are some easy and cost effective ways to make the switch to green:

1) Label magazines with a recycle logo.  Educating consumers may seem redundant, but in North America alone, more than 57 percent of the paper used is not recycled.  By raising awareness, people will be more inclined to support magazines that help sustain the environment.  The logo also highlights the publisher’s commitment to the environment and the future.

2) Reduce costs with recycled paper.  On average, recycled paper is cheaper than virgin paper says Geddis.  Costs are lower for recycled paper because, it reduces the amount of work, “You’re using paper that’s [already] been pulped, so it didn’t have to go through all the other manufacturing [processes].  You didn’t have to cut down the trees, didn’t have to transport the trees, you didn’t debark them or have to turn them into pulp.”  Essentially recycling paper minimizes the amount of energy and time by “taking pulp and cleaning it up to turn it back into pulp.”

3) Print on recycled paper.  High quality and cost effective environmentally friendly paper is readily available. Just like non-recycled paper, costs vary depending on the grade of paper used.  Geddis believes “There is an economy to it.  The [paper] with the recycled content would be somewhat cheaper, and there is an environmental advantage to it.”

4) Publishers should insist that printing companies reduce the amount of virgin pulp used, which will also reduce the amount of pollution and waste created when making paper. One magazine that has changed printing techniques for a low-cost alternative is Briarpatch. The Canadian magazine is printed on recycled paper, and uses vegetable-based ink.  Even the server hosting the web site, powered by Greenweb Host, uses wind energy.

There are alternatives, at a comparable price, but publishers must take steps to ensure both business and environmental sustainability.