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Choose reading materials printed on recycled paper

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Thanks in part to a rising number of eco-aware publishers, it's increasingly easy for readers to turn the page on environmentally unsound paper manufacturing by opting for reading materials printed on recycled content paper. Whether you're a bookworm, magazine maniac, or old-fashioned newspaper junkie, feast your eyes on post-consumer recycled goodness.

How to choose reading materials printed on recycled paper

  • A new chapter in publishing. Concerned that the page-turner in your hands is a dead tree? You may be surprised to find that many publishers are already printing on tree-friendly (recycled and/or sustainably sourced) paper. According to the Green Press Initiative (GPI), a number of university presses and general interest publishers—including coffee table-friendly Chronicle Books and industry heavies like Simon & Schuster and Random House—have signed the Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use and/or adopted progressive environmental policies. Lantern Books was the first to sign on the green line.[1] Additionally, Portland, Oregon-based virtual bookseller Powell's has partnered with GPI to make online browsing for recycled pulp fiction a breeze.
  • Passion for periodicals? Seek out magazines printed on tree-friendly eco-papers that contain recycled paper content and/or fiber sourced from responsibly managed forests. Fans of thick glossies and newsstand staples may be out of luck as most (but not all) of these titles fall into the environmental/nature genre. To peruse some titles, head on over to Co-op America's listing of Magazine Paper Heroes and get reading.
  • Landfill or library? Are your eco-reads starting to pile up? Recycling is one easy option that may lead to a future readable reincarnation. You can also donate them to a local library, church, shelter, jail, nursing home, or another organization or business that may accept used periodicals and books. If feeling sly, sneak those spent magazines into the pile of tabloids and golf journals at your doctor's or dentist's office (just be sure to remove your subscription info). Offering old eco-reads on Freecycle is another option, as is selling them on sites such as eBay or at a garage sale or charity drive.
  • And the paper that you don't want to cozy up with... If you're the type that chooses to read e-books and fire up the laptop for breaking news, you're in good green shape. But consider other sources of paper in your home or office and how you can make the move toward recycled. Paper-based "hellos", household and work necessities, and more can be made from partial or complete post-consumer recycled content.

Choosing reading materials printed on recycled paper helps you go green because...

  • Producing recycled paper requires about 60 percent of the energy used to make paper from virgin wood pulp.[2]
  • According to figures released by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1 ton of recycled paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, two barrels of oil, and 4,100 kilowatt hours of electricity.[2]
  • Publishers making conscious steps toward recycled and responsible paper use often practice other green business operations. For example, Simon & Schuster uses eco-friendly cleaning products, energy-efficient lighting, and recycled content carpeting in its offices, and relies on teleconferencing and other methods to cut back on sales-associated travel.[3]


It's estimated that 30 million trees are used each year for books sold in the US—1,153 times the number of trees in New York's Central Park. In response to the environmental and social damage that stems from book publishing, over 160 publishers have adopted environmental policies or signed The Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use.[4] Authors like Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood have also backed the move toward sustainable publishing spearheaded by the Green Press Initiative.[5]

One of the world's most popular contemporary literary icons, Harry Potter, got the green treatment in his final 784-page installment, 2007's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Potter's American publisher, Scholastic, partnered with the Rainforest Alliance to print every copy with a minimum of 30 percent recycled fiber. Additionally, two-thirds of the paper used was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified, and copies of the "deluxe" edition contained 100 percent recycled paper produced in a sustainably powered factory. Greenpeace estimates that the effort conserved tens of thousands of trees.[6] The initial print run for a previous Potter adventure, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was handled in a similar manner by its Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books. The company used strictly 100 percent recycled paper, saving an estimated 39,320 trees, 17 million gallons of water, and 1,885 pounds of solid waste, as well as energy and greenhouse gas emissions.[5]


According to findings by the Magazine PAPER Project, magazine production in the US requires 2.2 million tons of paper on an annual basis. Nearly all magazines are printed on paper sourced from virgin timber—around 5 percent is recycled content paper—resulting in the cutting down of over 30 million trees per year, the use of massive amounts of energy and water, and the generation of pollution.[7] Behind petroleum, chemical, and coal products, the manufacture of paper products, including magazines, emits the fourth greatest amount of carbon dioxide. An average issue of Time magazine is responsible for a quarter-pound of greenhouse gas emissions.[8]

Although the number of magazines pledging to use post-consumer recycled content paper is currently small—mostly environmental, nature, and outdoor-oriented publications like Outside, Sierra, Discover, and Terrain—industry insiders believe that publishers can reverse poor environmental records by using recycled papers along with more efficient management of newsstand distribution.[7]

As the eco-ills of magazine publishing have come to light in recent years, industry goliaths, like Conde Nast (Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Domino, etc.) and Hearst (Cosmopolitan, O, Esquire, Redbook, etc.) have come under fire for hypocrisy. Although their titles provide extensive coverage of global warming and other environmental issues, the companies themselves have dubious environmental policies when it comes to paper use.[9] Music and culture bible Rolling Stone has taken a step in a greener direction by printing the magazine on "carbon neutral" paper (made via a process that manufacturer Catalyst Paper Corp. claims adds no carbon dioxide during production), although detractors believe in order to truly make an impact, it should switch to recycled content paper. Rolling Stone believes that printing on recycled paper would not do artistic justice to the artists and photographers published in its hallowed pages.[10]


Newspaper publishers are making steady progress in using less newsprint each year in part because of the paper industry shift toward recycled content newsprint; readers heading online for a daily news fix also drive the numbers down. In 2007, recycled paper represented 79 percent of the content used to make newspapers in the UK,[11] and US publishers are also making strides: in 1989 American newspapers were made with around 10 percent recycled fiber and in 2007 were made with about 30 percent.[12] Still, the amount of virgin fiber used annually—around 6 million metric tons—is greater than the book, magazine, and catalog sectors combined. In 2007, the newsprint industry emitted 49 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, consumed 95 million trees, and released 126 billion pounds of wastewater.[13]

Forest Stewardship Council

Along with recycled paper, the Green Press Initiative also recognizes paper made from responsibly sourced virgin timber as being a key player in the eco-paper movement.[14] There are several organizations certifying lumber, but according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), only one is preferred by green experts worldwide—the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).[15] FSC is an international nonprofit organization that was formed in 1993. It accredits certifiers, who in turn use auditors to inspect timber operations (only those that voluntarily request FSC certification) to guarantee that trees are sustainably harvested using forestry practices that maintain the diversity of native species, prevent over-cutting, protect watersheds, and ensure long-term forest management.[16]

FSC's program is endorsed by most national and international environmental NGOs; unions; social groups; indigenous peoples; timber industries; private, communal, and state forest owners; and scientists from over 60 countries,[17] including such organizations as the World Wildlife Fund, the Wilderness Society, the NRDC, the Rainforest Alliance, and the World Resources Institute.[18]

FSC has six strict principles for monitoring every stage of production, distribution, and sale of wood products, and works with wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.[19] These principles cover environmental, social, and economic criteria,[18] such as harvest rates and clearing sizes; natural forest conditions; rare, threatened, and endangered species; adequate conservation zones; chemical use (minimized); protection of streams and lakes; and the health of workers, communities, and indigenous peoples.[15] Only those operations that meet the criteria are allowed to display the FSC label.[16]

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