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Newspapers May Be Greener, But What About Redundancy?

If you want to “green” your news reading, just go online, right? Ditch that dirty, landfill-clogging paper. Not so fast, argues Sarah Westervelt, environmental expert and activist. In a recent article on The Dead Tree Edition, Westervelt said that she was “too informed about what’s going to happen to my computer when I’m done with it” to feel good about reading Web news and gave a number of compelling reasons that newspapers are actually the greener choice.

Among her reasons for rejecting e-news, as reported by The Dead Tree Edition, the toxic materials contained in electronic devices and a complex waste cycle (including more than a dozen plastics in each), combined with not enough value in re-use to make recycling the parts non-economical. Paper, on the other hand, comes from a renewable resource, doesn’t contain the toxic materials, and is highly recyclable.

The post is a great read, and it certainly makes you think about the consequences of our wired world. (Some of the arguments that have been made against Apple’s new iPad.)

At the same time — and while I cannot disagree with Westervelt’s facts — this argument really only works if it’s an either-or proposition. If I have to turn my computer on in order to read the news online, then her argument makes sense. I’m choosing an electronic gadget over print. But the truth is that I don’t (and I doubt anyone else does either). That computer is going to be on whether I read the newspaper or not.

Thus, while the paper cycle may be greener than the e-media cycle, in this case, it’s actually the less green choice simply because it’s redundant. I wonder why no one ever talks about that?

Like this post? See all my “Greening Print Marketing” posts.

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.


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  1. I have to say that I completely agree with you on this. Not only is the computer likely to be on, but she’s also concerned about lifecycle costs of her electronic devices. Is reading online news the only reason she owns a computer? Will a physical newspaper really eliminate computers from her life?

    And really excellent point about redundancy.

  2. What nonsense

    I use to work as a book shelver at my local university. During the school term September – April, I would drop ten pounds. That represents the amount of energy that i burned just moving book trucks around. This at a time of year when most of us will gain 5 – 10 pounds.

    Never mind the energy spent in the production of paper, the amount of energy consumed just moving it from place to place is massive.

    John Kerr
    Guelph Ontario

  3. Interesting argument that I haven’t thought off before, but the author does make a point that we may be thinking we’re doing a good deed for the environment by ditching our newspapers but may be in fact doing more harm than good when it comes to trying to save the earth.

  4. John Kerr,

    I understand your point, but you may want to look into the carbon footprint of our electronic devices. The amount of energy it takes to produce, run, host, and maintain the computers, servers, back-up storage, and everything else has its own massive energy requirements. Plus, many of our electronic devices contain hazardous materials that the paper stream does not. What happens to those devices when people dispose of them? Only some of them get recycled. So the idea that paper is less green than e-media simply because it’s tangible is a very simplistic way to look at it.

  5. Whats up, I want to say many thanks for an compelling site about a subject I have had an interest in for a long time now. I have been checking in and looking at the comments avidly so just wanted to express my thanks for delivering me with some very interesting reading material. I look forward to more, and taking a more active part in the discussions here, whilst picking up some education too!!

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