shortcomings of recycling

Larry Caldwell larryc at
Sat Feb 21 20:23:29 EST 1998

In article <6cj03p$d36$1 at>,
"Greta Anderson" <squirrel at> wrote:
> I thought this was an interesting piece to forward to you guys.
> (Can anybody answer my questions about the domestic paper
> industry?)

I read the piece, but you evidently forgot to include your questions
about the paper industry.  What are they?

However, magazine editors are evidently not a whole lot smarter than
reporters.  I don't know anything at all about the paper industry,
but spotted a few misstatements.

> I first called our printer, who explained it isn't feasible for us
> to 
> use paper made of 100 percent recycled fiber. High-circulation
> magazines 
> are printed on "web" stock. (Imagine a huge spinning roll of
> toilet 
> paper.) Recycling leaves fibers so short and weak that the paper
> would 
> continually break in a high-speed press. To maintain strength, our
> so-called recycled paper consists of only 10 percent recycled
> fiber. 

This is generally true, but the numbers seem pretty weird.  First, if
this rag is a slick, using recycled paper is indeed going to be an
expensive proposition.  Polished and coated slick paper is not often
manufactured out of recycled materials, because it has to be white.
To get the ink out of recycled paper, you have to bleach the bejeezus
out of it.

Ten percent is pretty low recycled content, even for web stock.  
Newspapers print on web presses too, and run about 40% recycled 
content.  The difference is that newspapers aren't expected to be 
white and shiny.

If the Minnesota DNR wants to save both money and resources, the sensible
thing to do would be to switch to a cheaper paper.  The Oregon Department
of Forestry publishes a magazine called the Forest Log that switched to
newsprint from slick a couple years ago.  Who cares?  It's the content
that counts.
> If the recycled content is so little, I asked the supervisor at
> the 
> company that makes our paper, why does it cost so much? The
> reason, he 
> said is the high cost of sorting recycled paper, and de-inking and
> bleaching the recycled pulp. (Ink sludge and other waste wind up
> in a landfill.) 

Yep.  If he was willing to settle for yellow or gray paper instead of
bone white, he could avoid all this expense.

> Our yearly paper use, about 120 tons, consisted of about 40 tons
> of 
> coating and 80 tons of total fiber, he said. That amount of fiber
> would 

That's how I know this is a slick rag.  The 40 tons of coating is
clay, squidged onto the paper so the ink won't bleed.  Nothing is
too good for the gummint.  We're talking serious high quality

[big deletia]

> Any number of ways you might spend $22,000 could benefit the
> environment 
> far more than buying recycled magazine paper. In fact, it is hard
> to 
> imagine spending money any more foolishly. Who would spend $22,000
> of 
> his own money to protect $400 worth of land, save $300 in
> trash-hauling 
> costs, and produce some rather had-to-define environmental
> benefits? 

Probably the best way to benefit the environment is to save the whole
$270,000 and quit publishing a magazine that nobody buys.

> Greg Breining is a free-lance writer who lives in St. Paul. His
> opinions 
> are NOT those of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

No, I imagine not.  

If you're really interested in the technical details of the paper
industry, you might try posting your questions to 
misc.industry.pulp-and-paper, where you might find someone who
knows something about the subject.

-- Larry

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