5Across: Environmental Impact of Newspapers, Books, e-Waste

    by Mark Glaser
    January 22, 2010
    Computer trash image by "Zunkkis":http://www.flickr.com/people/zunkkis/ via Flickr

    This episode of 5Across is brought to you by USC Annenberg’s Specialized Journalism Program. This 9-month program is for mid-career or aspiring journalists. To learn more, go to the USC Annenberg site.

    When I canceled my daily newspaper subscription, I figured it was the right thing to do for the environment. No longer would someone have to ink up all that newsprint and deliver it to my doorstep. But what I didn’t consider was the environmental impact of all my electronic devices — their energy use as well as the harm they can do when being “recycled” in developing countries.

    On this episode of 5Across, I convened a group of experts to examine the environmental impact of print media, as well as e-waste and the energy used by web servers when we go online. Most surprisingly, I learned that newspaper publishers use mostly recycled paper, as well as “virgin paper” that comes from the refuse generated by saw mills when creating lumber for houses. Could it be that over time newspapers are actually the greener option versus using electronic devices? No one knows for sure yet, but it’s a fascinating question to ponder.


    5Across: Environmental Impact of Media

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    Guest Biographies

    Shona Burns is executive director for production development at Chronicle Books. She is currently working on expanding the environmental responsibilities within Chronicle Books and is a member of the Green Press Initiative Advisory Board, in addition to being a member of the Book Industry Environmental Council. Prior to joining Chronicle Books, Shona graduated from the three-year Book and Periodical Publishing program at Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she has held numerous production positions in the United Kingdom. She has spoken on various production topics at Book Expo America, Booktech and Stanford University’s Summer Publishing Course.

    Joe Kelleher is the production director for the San Jose Mercury News. He is a member of the company’s operating committee and is responsible for all aspects of operations. This includes prepress (digital ad team, ad production, composing, paper make up, ad services, platemaking), printing (pressroom, newsprint warehouse), packaging, and building support services. He previously worked for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and the Detroit Newspaper Agency. Prior to his newspaper career, he was employed in the field of injection molded plastics.

    Charles Uchu Strader is a worker-owner of Gaia Host Collective, a cooperatively owned Internet hosting company dedicated to environmental and social sustainability. Charles has worked for 15 years in the Internet infrastructure field with both open source and commercial software. At Gaia Host, he works to grow a low-impact Internet hosting infrastructure, and focuses on data-center efficiency, maximizing the use of the embodied energy of the hardware through life-cycle extension, efficiently managing the load on the computers, as well as managing the efficiency of software running the infrastructure. Charles is also an active board member of a non-profit operating an off-grid environmental educational facility in Massachusetts.

    Jean Walsh is the outreach specialist and has been working in communications for the San Francisco Department of the Environment since 2007. She supports the toxics reduction, green business and zero waste programs using new media marketing, grassroots outreach, press relations and traditional advertising. Prior to joining SF Environment, Jean served as consumer outreach and marketing manager for TransFair USA, the non-profit organization that certifies Fair Trade products. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua, Jean holds a Masters Degree in City Planning from MIT.

    Sarah Westervelt is the e-stewardship director at the Basel Action Network. Her work includes developing the e-steward’s accredited certification program, educating the public about issues associated with exporting e-waste, as well as highlighting the worst-case scenarios. Sarah co-authored BAN exposés including films and reports documenting horrific “recycling” in China and Nigeria. Through programs, policy, and education, the e-Stewardship Initiative provides guidance to go beyond inadequate regulations and practices, and better understand existing international laws that pertain to trade in toxic wastes. Sarah has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Systems Renewal from Antioch University, and worked for years as a consultant in organizational development before joining the Basel Action Network in 2001.

    If you’d prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I’ve broken them down by topic below.

    Recycled Paper in Newspapers and Books

    The Problem With E-Waste, Web Servers

    Online or Print?

    Educating the Public

    Finding Solutions


    Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
    Darcy Cohan, producer
    Charlotte Buchen, camera
    Julie Caine, audio
    Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco
    Special thanks to: PBS and The Knight Foundation
    Music by AJ the DJ



    Thanks to Vega Project for hosting 5Across

    What do you think? Do you consider the environmental impact of the devices you use, and the print products you read? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

    This episode of 5Across is brought to you by USC Annenberg’s Specialized Journalism Program. This 9-month program is for mid-career or aspiring journalists. To learn more, go to the USC Annenberg site.

    Tagged: books e-waste environment newspapers recycling

    7 responses to “5Across: Environmental Impact of Newspapers, Books, e-Waste”

    1. Is print or electronic more envitonmentally friendly? Who cares? http://is.gd/6SQvW

    2. Matthew,
      You say in your blog post:

      “Does anyone actually think that a 100% green e-paper version of a print product will spell the extinction of news on the web in all its collaborative glory?”

      I don’t think the point of the discussion is to have people choose one over the other, leading to the end of one form of media. My goal was to figure out what the environmental impact of each medium was, and how we can change that. If you do care about the environment, why not take into account the impact you have when you consume media (something you do for hours each day)?

    3. Hey Matthew,

      The show didn’t cover the topic of whether “a 100% green e-paper version of a print product will spell the extinction of news on the web in all its collaborative glory?”.

      I felt like what we got to was that each person (as well as the companies that make computers, books, and papers) needs to be more conscious about the large environmental impact we are making. All of these ways to deliver media and collaboration evolve over time and will continue to evolve.

      The issues of environmental impact, especially regarding computers and computing devices needs to be dealt with from both the impact of use…but also the large impact of creation and disposal of this technology. It’s definitely not good if we make communities on the planet sick from our technology waste…planet and people are more fundamental to collaboration than the Internet, which is just another method of collaboration.

    4. Jeff says:

      Hey there. I just finished this video, and in my opinion their were some very good ideas, and some that weren’t very thought out. I agree that using my computer or digital device would be wasteful and harmful, if the only thing I did was switch from a paper book and newspaper, to digital. Yes, if those were the only things, but the way I see it, I’ve switched from the more traditional format, to digital, in every way possible for me. All of my news (including newspapers), books, magazines, owners manuals, user guides, account statements, bill pay, bills, anything I need to write, forms that need filled out, photos, coupons, receipts, and those are just the paper things I can think of, have been switched to digital format. I’ve also went as far as to include all of my movie, music, CD, and any other media, all of it downloaded and stored on my computer. It’s all there when I need it, nearly organized, and accessible. That’s eliminating a lot of waste from manufacture, packaging, and many many other forms of waste. The waste when my computer has finished it’s life cycle is a small price to pay, when you consider the waste that has been eliminated by converting everything into digital format, stored on my hard drive. That’s a lot of trees saved, diverted petroleum use, and other wastes that I’m unable to think of at the moment. Furthermore, I performed my own research, to combine as many devices as possible into one. This way, I do not have to pay the expense, or contribute to the environmental degradation, of owning the multiple devices. The answer for myself, was the iPhone. You’re able to access the internet on the go, read books, newspaper, basically any type of print, you have your mp3 player, your mobile phone, your check register, camera (although, it could be vastly improved), address book, coupons, receipts (this will be in the near future, there’s a new development that will allow you to have your receipt e-mailed to at check out, instead of having your receipt printed), any documents that I may need to have with me (insurance cards, etc., etc.), the list goes on. Although, I do agree that the manufacturing process needs to be greened up substantially, recycling needs to happen (real recycling of our e-waste), better power use and management, longer useful lives for our electronics, better durability, more sustainable upgrade options for software and hardware, as well as more compatibility, and of course, this list can continue, also. I’m just trying to get the general gist, so perhaps, people will think twice about this program. I did enjoy it. There were some nice ideas, but hopefully the consumer, as you guys said, will become more aware. P.S. I would love the newest version of windows, but I’m trying to get as much life out of the computer I currently use. I purchased it used, it runs the Windows XP operating system, it’s about 10 years old. I’m hoping to get, at least, another 5 years out of it, but if technology continues the way it has, I’m not sure that will be possible. It will be a challenge. About a year ago, I began experiencing severe performance issues. I’ve researched tweaks with the display and so forth, to help in the short term, but what this old computer really needs, is a RAM upgrade, and a few other hardware components. Perhaps that’ll help me get through the next 5 years. Any suggestions? Thank you for a great program, I’ll be sure to tune into future podcasts.

    5. anonymous says:

      Is that a link to a virus, or something similar, from Matthew Terenzio?

    6. Chad Warren says:

      I found this discussion worthwhile as well as the comments that add perspective to the issue of environmentally responsible media delivery.

      Here’s how I see the big picture. We are trying to devise a new social commonwealth contract that makes us aware of the cost of our actions and makes sure we pay our debts as users of what the earth offers so future generations and the earth itself may co-exist in harmony in the future.

      The problem now is the same as it always has been. The poorest and least powerful of us are bearing the brunt of this responsibility in the form of taxes.

      Its much easier to charge me if I want to dispose of a battery than it is to charge the head of the UN who brags about his office being at 30,000 ft in a private jet. That same guy in the same breath demands that ice water be removed from restaurants. This kind of hipocracy demands outrage and response.

      So, first we must legitimize governance by making it so the money it collects in taxes is actually spent responsibly on the public instead of being stolen by corporate pirates.

      Elitism, where experts run our world and tell us what to do is older than Egypt’s Pharoahs and is our current problem. We should rely on the human network as infinitely more valuable than the internet which is just a dislocation of our effort.

      It is a fallacy to think we need all this new stuff or to think it is better than what nature has provided. We need to value ourselves more and govern ourselves directly at the local level and build out from there. We don’t need the internet or expert media to connect us. We need to connect and everything good will come from that act alone.

      So, to recap, 2010 is the year we make contact with ourselves as the leaders who will save ourselves and the world. World leaders cannot represent you, they can only lead you to undervalue your power and responsibility. The only reason they go on about the environment and global warming is because they can make money and gain power by taking our rights away.

      The environment is extremely important, obviously. I’m just saying that you can run the world better than these experts. Experts think you will do what you want to do and that what you want to do is bad so they must stop us and control us. They are control freaks.

      They need us and not the other way around and they are smart enough to know that. Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Stop consuming all this media and talk with your neighbors about an issue or how you enjoyed your last meal and take positive actions. Stop feeding the dragon of elite leadership. Being yourself and loving yourself is the most powerful energy in the universe. Depending on leaders is slavery.

    7. Thanks for a nice share you have given to us with such an large collection of information. Great work you have done by sharing them to all. simply superb.

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