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Paper and the Environment: Part 1

The paper you hold in your hands when reading a book, magazine, or newspaper can have a multitude of effects on the environment, depending on how it was made and how it will be used. First of all, making paper uses a huge amount of water. This in itself can damage natural habitat and threaten fish populations by lowering the water levels and changing the water temperature near paper mills. In addition, greenhouse gases are released during papermaking due to the huge consumption of oil and electricity. The reduction in forestland that provides the resources for papermaking also accelerates global warming and destroys plant and animal habitat and biodiversity. And the bleaching process used to brighten paper releases chlorine, a toxin that poisons the environment.

What can be done to minimize the environmental impact of papermaking? Three viable alternatives are to reduce consumption, recycle paper, and make paper from sustainable, renewable resources.

Reducing Consumption
One way to use less paper is to clean your mailing list to reduce the number of publications you will need to print. This means making sure that every address is complete and accurate so all copies of your brochure or catalog reach their intended recipients.

Printing on both sides of the sheet is another way to reduce paper consumption, as is reducing the size of your publication’s margins.

Using lighter paper and reducing the trim size of a publication are two more ways to conserve paper. Consider moving from a 70# sheet to a 60# sheet, or making a publication “self-cover” (using the same stock for the cover and the text). Not only will you conserve resources, but you will also save money on postage. Shaving even a quarter-inch from the trim size of a periodical can make a huge difference in both paper usage and postage.

Recycling Paper
Recycling paper makes sense both environmentally and economically. Paper is one of the most expensive components of a print job. Making virgin paper uses a huge amount of energy (from the burning of nonrenewable fossil fuels). Making paper from paper saves time, water, and fossil fuels, and minimizes the bleaching needed to whiten a printing sheet. As a result, fewer toxins are released into the environment.

Using Environmentally Friendly Sustainable Materials
Making environmentally friendly paper means using methods that are less toxic to the environment and components that do not deplete the finite supply of certain raw materials.

One approach is to request paper brightened without chlorine, specifically elemental chlorine-free (ECF) and totally chlorine-free (TCF) paper. These types of papers are made by using oxygen and hydrogen peroxide to bleach the wood pulp. Specifying papers produced with mechanical (groundwood) pulp instead of bleached kraft pulp is another alternative.

Keep in mind that paper does not have to be made from wood. The finest bond letterhead paper is made from cotton. Other fibers that can be made into paper include kenaf, hemp, denim, old paper money, and even banana peels. These substances yield more pulp than trees do from a given amount of land. Fewer chemicals are needed to guard against pests and disease and to turn them into pulp. In addition, they use less energy over a shorter period of time for the actual paper manufacturing. Some alternative fibers such as kenaf also grow faster than trees, allowing for quick replenishment.

Remember, though, that since producing paper in this manner has not yet caught on widely, these papers are often still more expensive than virgin paper. As environmentally sensitive consumers increase demand, production will increase, causing costs to drop.

Bleed Tabs

When developing conference or educational materials, you often must group together a series of pages to allow for easy access to a single section. Producing a three-ring binder with a bank of tab dividers is one solution; other solutions include producing spiral-bound books, plastic-coil-bound books, or GBC-bound books. All of these mechanical bindings have one thing in common: they’re labor intensive and therefore very expensive to produce (up to two-thirds of the total cost of a book).

A less expensive, but still efficient, alternative to mechanical binding and tab dividers is a “bleed tab.” In this design option, a block of ink with the tab text surprinted on it (or reversed out of it) starts within the “live-matter” area of the page and then bleeds off the page. Each successive page within that section of the book will have the same box of color extending off the edge of the page and the same text reversed out of the box. When a printed and bound book produced in this way (with no physical tabs, but instead with banks of bleed tabs) is turned on its side, it will look as though a marker had been drawn along the edge of the pages, clearly delineating the range of pages within each section. This can dramatically reduce the cost of print production, since your only added expense is the bleed.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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