The Paper Chase

Environment

My office is piled high with books. Dozens more arrive each week. Many are thoughtful treatises on topics such as health, justice or the environment. What's surprising is that nearly all of them are printed on toxic, chlorine-bleached paper made from virgin timber -- much of which was harvested from North America's few surviving ancient forests.

Ninety-five percent of the paper on which U.S. books are printed is made from virgin fiber. That added up to almost a million tons of paper in 2001, according to the American Forest and Paper Association.

That's about 19 million trees.

"Publishers are progressive. They help to spread creativity, information, and new ideas," said Tyson Miller, who directs the Green Press Initiative. "What isn't progressive is harming endangered forests to print books."

This shameful story brightened just a bit during 2003, when one edition of "Harry Potter and the Order Of the Phoenix" was released on recycled paper. British author J.K. Rowling asked that her bestselling novels be produced on recycled paper. Her American publisher, Scholastic Inc., ignored her request. (Apparently, Scholastic's mission to "educate, entertain and motivate children" does not include enlightening them about real-world woodlands.) But Rowling's Canadian publisher behaved like a wizard. Vancouver-based Raincoast Books released "Order of the Phoenix" on 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper.

Post-consumer means the paper has been remanufactured from office and household waste, such as that collected through neighborhood recycling programs. By using post-consumer waste -- rather than the mill trimmings from which many deceptively labeled "recycled" papers are made -- Raincoast closed the loop from producer to consumer and back. "Order of the Phoenix" became the first high-volume title ever released on post-consumer paper. With an initial pressrun of 935,000 copies, the first printing alone spared an estimated 30,000 trees.

A gaggle of other authors likewise nudged their books onto recycled paper in 2003. Alice Walker's "Absolute Trust In The Goodness Of The Earth" (Random House), Barbara Kingsolver's "Small Wonder" (Perennial), and Julia Butterfly Hill's "One Makes The Difference" (HarperSanFrancisco) were each printed on post-consumer paper. And Eckhart Tolle's "Stillness Speaks" (New World Library) was printed on partially recycled paper. Other authors who have committed to releasing future books on post-consumer paper include Fritjof Capra, Paul Hawken and Andrew Weil.

Publishing houses hold far more power over printing than authors, however. About 50 small and mid-size U.S. publishers have promised to convert their lines to post-consumer paper during the next five years. Leading signatories to the Green Press Initiative include Berrett-Koehler, Chelsea Green, Island Press, New World Library, Seven Stories, Sierra Club Books, South End, Snow Lion and Wisdom.

Those publishers deserve our support. Unfortunately, their production represents but a sliver of the million-ton industry total. No major U.S. publisher has joined them. Said Tyson Miller: "Despite the same fiscal considerations, it's the small and mid-size publishers that are innovating their industry and helping to reduce pressure on endangered forests."

Monte Paulsen edits book sections for Dragonfly Media magazines (www.dragonflymedia.com).

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