Earlier this week, Random House announced it is increasing the amount of recycled paper it uses to publish its books.from its current usage of 3% to30%. In making the announcement Random House said,
"When it reaches its target of purchasing 33,000 tons of recycled-content paper by 2010, it believes that will be equivalent to saving more than 550,000 trees a year and removing 8,000 cars from the nation's roads, because of the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions."
The increase is scheduled to be accomplished by 2010. It is part of a larger initiative being launched by Green Press Initiative asking that all publishers increase use of recycled paper to 30% by 2011.
For many the news was surprising --not because Random House is increasing its use of recycled paper--what surprises many is that Random House wasn't already committed to recycled paper.
It is a false impression that many people have. Time was that it would have been unthinkable to print a brochure, annual report or flyer without proudly displaying the recycling icon.
Using recycled paper was not only corporate policy--corporations wanted to display their environmental friendly policies by plastering big honking recycled symbols on all publications. That was in the late 80s and 90s.
But somewhere between the go go 90's and the harsh realities of 9/11, corporate America's love affair with all things recycled ended.
It wasn't a shocking breakup like Brad and Jen, just a quiet dissolution--that occurred over time with few people even aware that the breakup occurred.
In fact, if you were to survey most people ,chances are they would think that corporations were still committed to recyled papers.
That was certainly the assumption I was working under until one Sunday afternoon in 2003.
I was spending the day with my dear college friends, Lynn
and Larry, in
Larry, who owns a printing company, began explaining
I thought maybe this was a St. Louis-centric phenomenon. I was wrong.
Recycled paper, it seems, is no longer on the radar screen of businesses in
or just about any other metropolitan area.
In its heyday, corporations wanted that recycling logo on their printed material to tell the world they were a good corporate citizen.
That was the '80s. Why did corporations reject recylce paper
"Clients came to understand it's the emperor's new clothes," explained Monica Little, president and creative director of Little & Co., a communications design firm in Downtown Minneapolis. "What I mean by that, is that people understand simply using paper designated as recycled may not really be helping the environment after all."
How can this be?
The problem is two-fold. First, there's the definition of recycled paper. Then, there's the use of chlorine in the recycling process.
If you ask most people to define recycled paper, chances are they'll tell you it's paper made from products sent to the recycling plant. At least that's what many of us who sort, separate and lug out bags of recyclables every two weeks hope.
Turns out, to qualify as recycled, paper doesn't have to use any of that post-consumer stuff. It can be made with the scraps and trimmings from the paper mill floor. Stuff that mills were using to make paper long before recycling became an issue.
The federal government and the State of
Minnesota requires all paper used by state agencies to be 10 percent post-consumer content. Claire, an editor for a Minnesota state agency, says she has no problem finding paper meeting the 10 percent requirement. But, she said, "you have to put in extra effort to find paper with higher post-consumer content."
And she said, since, the printing companies aren't much help and higher post-consumer percentage paper can cost a little more, most people she works with "are not interested in finding any papers that exceed minimum guidelines. They are dealing with a lot of stressful issues, and recycling isn't a top priority."
Most people concerned about the environment will tell you that the real enviornmental villian is the use of chlorine (and its byproduct dioxin) in both virgin and post-consumer paper production. Plenty of people I talked to want to support the use of recycled paper but, not if it's a sham.
Nevertheless, Dan Woychick of Woychick Design, another
Yet, as a designer who is committed to recycled paper, Dan does not usually put the recycled logo on his work. "Clients don't seem to care one way or another."
Even when clients care, the rules around recycled paper are so bizarre they make for a good deal of confusion. Claire, the state agency editor, went above and beyond, finding paper she thought was 80 percent post-consumer. But, it turns out, it wasn't post-anything.
In order to qualify as post-consumer, the source material has to have been purchased. The paper Claire used was made from magazines displayed on retail shelves, but never sold -- it never made it into consumers' homes. Without the sale, the unused magazines are just being recycled. Now Claire is in violation of state guidelines requiring that she use paper that is 10 percent post-consumer.
And so goes the recycled paper saga, where, as recycled-goods purchaser Woychick recalled the words of his father, "No good deed goes unpunished."
Image Credit: Flickr image by Miss Katryn
Note: Portions of this post are recycled from a column that I wrote in 2003 for Skyway News which is now The Downtown Journal. Claire is a pseudonym
Note: Portions of this post are recycled from a column that I wrote in 2003 for Skyway News which is now The Downtown Journal.
Claire is a pseudonym