Newspapers are 'greener' than many people realize ... and digital devices are not really 'environmentally friendly'
Sunday, May 19, 2019 - 9:28 am

BY BILL SHUMWAY
North Country This Week

Looking for an environmentally friendly way to keep weeds out of your garden? Put down a layer of newspaper and cover it with soil.

Surprised?

That’s just one example of how newspapers are “greener” than many people realize.

“Go green, go paperless” is a common slogan promoted by some businesses and academic institutions. But it is inaccurate and misleading.

In a garden, newspapers act as organic material for your plants and prevents weeds from sprouting up. In nature, the pages break down in six weeks.

Digital-only advocates often fail to recognize that manufacturing of cell phones depletes the earth of rare elements and consumes tremendous amounts of electricity.

When thrown away improperly -- which is often the case -- phones, computers and tablets leach non-biodegradable and toxic materials into the ground, contaminating water, plants and animals that live nearby.

And much of what we access online is stored in giant “server farms” that suck up electricity day and night so that all data is always available.

Since the first Earth Day nearly a half century ago, the newspaper, paper production and printing industries have made tremendous environmental strides.

Consider:

• Most newspaper ink is now soy-based and biodegradable, not created from petroleum. “You can drink the stuff,” some newspaper pressmen are fond of saying.

• The aluminum plates placed on the press to create the print and images in newspapers are recycled.

• Newspapers have among the highest rates of recycling of any commodity.

• Recycled newspapers are used to manufacture building insulation, kitty litter, sheetrock, paper plates, countertops, tissue paper, egg cartons, green berry boxes, new newspapers and construction paper.

Papermaking is not destroying forests – they cover 41% of land in the northeast U.S. today, compared with just 33% in 1900.

• In the U.S., deforestation was more than offset by reforestation between 1990 and 2010.

• While newsprint contains some recycled paper, most fiber comes from wood chips and sawdust that are byproducts of lumber production. Other wood for paper-making is obtained from the thinning of forest stands being grown to larger diameters for lumber and plywood.

Just about everything we do creates an “environmental footprint” – including the manufacturing process, transportation and disposal of the item as well as its actual use.

That’s true of newspapers – but also true of phones, computers and tablets.

There are lots of articles online supporting the purported environmental superiority of digital. But dig deep into those stories, and it becomes clear the statements are often not supported by serious research that considers the entire life of digital devices.

How many computers, phones, TVs and used printer cartridges have you and your employer thrown in the trash in the past decade?

Bill Shumway is editor and publisher of North Country This Week and NorthCountryNow.com.