As a word nerd, I consume a LOT of paper. I prefer paperbacks to eBooks. I prefer bookstores to the library. I prefer to write longhand and then type my work, only to print it out, edit on paper and then repeat. I used to say that I WASTE a lot of paper, but in the past few years I’ve amended that mindset to confess that I USE a lot of paper. But this doesn’t change the fact that two loves of my life are in conflict. Books and our planet.
To celebrate Earth Day (week) I’ve gathered several facts (the good, the bad and the ugly) about the publishing and printing industry and paper. Hopefully, armed with these facts, we can make a can make environmentally conscious decisions when it comes to our work creation, book production and overall paper consumption.
First, a Few Facts
For a more in depth description of how trees are turned into paper, check out this wonderful entry on Wonderopolis or this article (including pictures of the process) posted on Penn State’s Extension learning site.
The Bad News
According to studies by the nonprofit Green Press Initiative, paper making is at the top of the list of the largest industrial sources of carbon emissions in developed countries, requiring significant amounts of oil and gas at many phases of the process of turning trees into books.
The Good News!
But don’t despair. Good things are being done to balance out the bad news above!
Several publishing companies, including Scholastic and Hachette Publishing have set and met goals in the areas of sustainable paper procurement practices which include using up to 25% recycled paper and fibers to create books, and working to reduce packaging and overall book weight (to decrease shipping environmental effects).
Additionally, in one 1996 study, consumers reported they would be willing to pay more for a book published on recycled paper! It’s great that word nerds are committed to loving not only their books, but the environment too! This is a step in the right direction.
Looking outside of the publishing industry will also provide positive action. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, The Earth Day Network has decided to set a theme of focus for each year. Back in 2016, the focus theme was trees! They planned, by 2021 to plant 7.8 billion trees! “According to the Earth Day Network, in one year a single acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving the average consumer car 26,000 miles. Nearly 8 billion may seem like a daunting number, but similarly ambitious plantings have been undertaken in the past. Earth Day 2011 saw the planting of over a million new trees in Afghanistan.”
If more individuals and companies think green, we can continue to produce, purchase, and consume books in an environmentally responsible way.
What Can You Do to Help?
Become an advocate for urban trees. As the more of the world transitions from rural to urban, it will be important to maintain the urban tree canopy in dense population centers. Encourage your community to instate tree planting ordinances and include tree planting in their city planning. Planting trees provides economic and health benefits that positively affect all community members.
You can help support our Trees for the Earth campaign mentioned above! In addition to tree plantings, the campaign helps secure additional climate commitments.
Try seeking out used book options. To ensure that books, having gone through the costly production process, life a full life, try purchasing them second hand. Often these books are still in excellent shape and your purchase will not only save a book from a landfill, but also help a small, local business. One of my favorite used bookstores is Pearl Street Books in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin.
If you are a publisher or printer of books, do your best to work with local companies and avoid doing business with companies over seas that require resource-heavy practices for shipment of goods. Cutting down on shipping distance cuts down on the carbon footprint of your company and product and is good for the world! Also, despite common practice to dramatically over estimate the number of copies you hope to sell, print as many books as you think you will actually sell, so that later on, books do not have to be destroyed rather than returned (another common book-seller practice).
Another step publishers and printers can take is to Join the Green Press Initiative. The Green Press Initiative (GPI) is a valuable resource and organization for everyone in the book community. Individuals and businesses may join for a low yearly fee.
Plant trees! Not only will you be growing a source of paper for more books, you will be positively affecting the climate while it grows by providing oxygen, shade, water management and if nothing else, a shady place to enjoy your latest reading selection. For help on purchasing, planting or donating to someone who can, visit www.arborday.org, www.treesforever.org or http://www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign/about/index.asp.
So now you know the down and dirty facts about books and trees. Knowledge is power.