Recycling newsprint has made a good start, but there are problems


November 07, 1990|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

What will you do with this newspaper when you are done with it? Pitch it in the garbage? Put it down for the puppy? Perhaps you will recycle it. Hundreds of thousands of American households do.

Recycling paper is a good thing to do. According to Worldwatch Institute, every ton of paper recycled saves approximately 17 trees, 4,100 kilowatt hours of electricity and 7,000 gallons of water. It keeps 60 pounds of pollutants out of the air and 30 pounds of pollutants out of the water -- byproducts of making paper from scratch.

It sounds great, doesn't it? Unfortunately, there is a small catch: Our old friend Demand is not keeping up with its buddy Supply.

You see, recycling of old newsprint rose by 34 percent between 1983 and 1988 (way to go, guys). But REUSE only rose by 5 percent, because market demand for recycled paper products couldn't keep up with the flood of collected newspapers.

Nor could the recycling mills. Only eight of 23 U.S. paper mills are equipped for producing recycled newsprint.

The result? By the end of 1989, more than a million tons of old newsprint lay stacked in warehouses around the country. And hundreds more tons, carefully separated in your house and mine, went up in flames at incinerators. The salvage price for newsprint plummeted from $40 a ton in 1983 to $5 a ton in 1988.

The situation is a classic Catch-22: Newspaper publishers don't want to commit themselves to using more recycled newsprint until they're assured of an adequate supply.

Paper mills don't want to invest millions of dollars in new recycling mills until they're assured of a steady demand for their product.

To resolve the standoff, governments at federal and local levels are using a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot takes the form of tax breaks and other financial incentives for both producers and users of recycled paper. The stick? Thirty-four states have passed procurement laws requiring a minimum use of recycled paper.

In the long term, the situation looks pretty heartening. In the short term, it stinks.

And in the meantime, there you are, painstakingly stacking your papers, dutifully setting them out on the curb for pickup or delivering them to a recycling center. What more can you do?

Not a lot to increase world consumption of newsprint unless you happen to own or run a large newspaper. But you CAN write your local publishers and urge them to increase their recycled newsprint content, and to do it soon.

Many papers are already doing that. The New York Times plans to go from 8 percent recycled content to 40 percent in the next 10 years. The Seattle Times aims to increase its puny 2 percent to 30 percent by next year. The Los Angeles Times already uses a respectable 83 percent. USA Today? Reportedly, a big fat zero.

Now that we've --ed off a few brisk letters to the editors of our favorite dailies, let's turn our attention to our OWN paper consumption. What paper products do you use? Note pads, stationery, envelopes, Stick-ems, tablets, file folders, drawing pads, wrapping paper, tissue, paper towels, toilet paper? Are any of them made from recycled paper?

Whenever you buy a paper product, look for a brand that advertises recycled content. Many grocery stores now carry tissue, toilet paper and paper towels made from recycled paper. Recycled office paper, stationery and envelopes are harder to come by. And, unless you are buying in bulk, they are often as much as 20 percent more expensive. However, as demand for these products grows and paper mills begin to increase the available supply, prices should come down.

If you can't find recycled paper in stores, the mail-order outfits listed below have an excellent supply. They can help you figure out what you need over the phone, or send you samples. If you have any questions about comparative prices, quality, etc., call the Pennsylvania Resources Council environmental shopping hot line, at (800) 468-6772.

National recycled paper product vendors:

Conservatree Paper Co., 10 Lombard St., Suite 250, San Francisco, Calif. 94111 (800) 522-9200

Earth Care Paper Co., P.O. Box 3335, Madison, Wis. 53704 (608) 256-5522

Ecco Bella, 6 Provost Square, Suite 602, Caldwell, N.J. 07006 (201) 226-5799

Eco Solutions, 1929 Fifth St., Minneapolis, Minn. 55454 (612) 338-0250

Graham-Pierce, P.O. Box 1866, Fairview Heights, Ill. 62208 (800) 851-3899

The Recycled Paper Co., 185 Corey Rd., Boston, Mass. 02146-2246 (617)277-9901

Recycled Paper Outlet, P.O. Box 66241, Portland, Ore. 97266 (503) 760-8445

Seventh Generation, 10 Farrell St., South Burlington, Vt. 05403 (800) 456-1177

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