A single newspaper copy and one driven kilometre cause equal emission
By Krista Kimmo
A newspaper copy causes the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions during its whole life cycle as driving just one kilometre with a passenger car.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has studied the environmental impacts caused by printed newspapers, books, magazines, picture books and advertisement leaflets. The results show that paper producers and users can breathe a sigh of relief.
The use of print products – newspapers, books and paper products – causes only one percent of the annual climate effects of a Finnish household.
Driving a car for just one kilometre causes a carbon footprint the same size as a single 50-page newspaper during its whole life cycle. The annual volume of a daily newspaper causes an amount of greenhouses gases equal to that generated by driving 456 kilometres by car.
“We compared the emissions of print products with motoring to make the scale easier to understand. We are naturally not implying that the two could substitute each other,” explains Ms. Minna Nors, Research Scientist at VTT. She was also the Project Manager of the study.
Printed paper or e-version?
Whether a paper should be read from print or on screen cannot be assessed, though the emission share of paper products is small, Nors says. The issue was not studied in this research programme.
”My understanding is that in some situations, an electronic medium is more eco-friendly in others, the printed version. There is no one guideline to give, as there are so many products available,” she says.
Swedish scientist Åsa Moberg, for example, concluded in her dissertation that the environmental benefits of e-reading devices are counteracted by the environmental impact of their manufacturing.
The negative impacts of e-readers increase if a separate device is bought and used for each e-activity and if they are replaced by the latest model as it becomes available.
Fellings cause one percent of emissions
A study by the Technical University of Stockholm (Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan) a few years ago showed that the amount and generation method of the electricity required is the main factor affecting the eco-friendliness of both printed and electronic publications.
The VTT study found that half of a newspaper’s carbon footprint is due to the emission from the electricity used in manufacturing and printing paper. If the electricity used in making a newspaper were all renewable, its carbon footprint would diminish by 40 percent.
Besides electricity, the heating energy needed in manufacturing plus the greenhouse gases caused by the transport of products are the main contributors to the carbon footprint of a newspaper. In addition, paper which ends up in waste produces methane as it decays.
The share of fellings of a newspaper’s carbon footprint is only one percent. This figure includes only the emission caused by the actual felling activity. The study did not include the changes in the carbon storage in forests. The researchers say this was because there is no reliable method for determining the precise effect of a single product on the carbon stored in forests.
Around 1,200 newspaper copies of 50–60 pages can be made out of one cubic metre of wood. One cubic metre of wood can be harvested from an area of 25 by 30 metres, by thinning away every third 15-metre-high tree for use. The rest, two thirds, are left to grow.
Recycling really matters
The Finns’ enthusiasm for recycling paper and paperboard is one of the highest in Europe. As an example, 79 percent of all newspapers used were recovered and recycled for further use in 2005. 16 percent ended up in waste and five percent were used to generate energy.
Despite the high recycling rates, the most effective way for a consumer to decrease the emissions caused by paper products is to improve recycling: sorting different grades and making sure they are recovered instead of being dumped as waste.
Nors stresses that the high rate of recycling is a relevant contributor to the small carbon footprint of a newspaper.
Standard to help comparison of emissions
Of the climate effects of Finnish households, 28 percent are related to housing, while 16 percent are caused by foodstuffs and 13 percent by motoring. It is easier to achieve greater environmental effects in these areas than by giving up printed paper products.
However, the small carbon footprint of printed products does not justify reckless use. “Whatever the product, one should reflect whether it is really needed and what would be a sensible choice,” Nors says.
An international standard is being drafted to make it possible to calculate and communicate the carbon footprints of different products and organizations. Once completed, this will make it possible to compare two products.
“It will still be difficult, as there is always some leeway in implementing standards,” Nors believes.