When you think about the most environmentally friendly industries in the world, the print industry may not be the first one that comes to mind. Since we use paper, we must not be very “green,” right?
It turns out that isn’t really true. Many of the assumptions people make about the sustainability of the printed materials have been proven false, and we want to finally set the record straight. Keep reading to test your true knowledge about sustainability and the print industry.
True or False: Paper is the most-recycled product in North America.
True. In North America, paper is consistently recycled more than any other commodity. In fact, we recycle more than half of all the paper we use. Using recycled paper reduces greenhouse gas emissions, carbon emissions and the total energy needed for print production. In the US, nearly 40 percent of our paper comes from recycled materials. The other 60 percent is required to come from sustainable sources, such as managed forests and lumber by-products.
True or False: Digital media is greener than print materials.
False. Print marketing gets a bad rap, but both forms of communication have an impact on the environment. In 2016, we generated 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste across the globe. To create one computer, manufacturers must use 240 kg of fossil fuels and 22 kg of chemicals, some of which can be damaging to the environment.
The actions we take on digital devices have an additional impact as well. The energy used to send emails will generate up to 4 billion metrics tons of CO2 per year, or about the same amount as 1 million cars. Neither digital nor print media is perfect, but it would be unfair and incorrect to say that print is inherently less green.
True or False: Print marketing has a smaller carbon footprint than digital marketing.
True. When we create a paper material, carbon emissions are only produced once, when we first create the product. Then, when we read that print material, we don’t use any additional energy (unless we’re reading at night). Reading on a screen will always require batteries or an additional power source. Every time you pick up and use a digital device, more carbon emissions are created.
True or False: The print industry is killing trees.
False. Every year, the US print industry plants more trees than we harvest every year. Of the trees we do use, 90 percent come from responsibly managed forests, which replant more than 4 million trees per day. That’s four times more than they harvest. Paper manufacturers can also use the same recycled material up to seven times before it becomes unusable. As a result, we now have 20 percent more trees in the US than we did on the first Earth Day in 1970. As long as we continue to recycle and use paper responsibly, we can minimize its environmental impact.
You might be surprised to learn that the areas of the world that consume the lease amount of wood are actually the same areas experiencing the greatest forest loss. Countries that produce more paper tend to have more requirements in place about replanting, which keeps the industry sustainable and protects the overall ecosystem.
True or False: Paper-based packaging is wasteful.
False. Today, 75 percent of all paper-based packaging is reused and recycled. This packaging is necessary to safely transport the products it carries. It also minimizes waste, spoilage and contamination. Because of efficient paper packaging, product damage has decreased to less than 5 percent in the US.
In addition, the paper industry has made serious headway reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are created from packaging materials. Between 2006 and 2010, emission declined by 32 percent due to an increase in recycling and use of renewable energy at paper mills. As we further improve our processes, these emissions will only continue to decrease.