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National Geographic May Use Recycled Paper

National Geographic is considering using recycled paper for its publications, following a study that found using recovered fiber in place of virgin fiber for magazine paper has a benefit in 14 of 14 environmental impact categories.

Categories studied in Life Cycle Assessment of Deinked and Virgin Pulp — a life-cycle assessment by Environ International Corporation — include total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, carcinogenicity, non-renewable energy use, eutrophication and wood use.

For example, a kilogram of deinked pulp is responsible for 0.6 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent over its entire life-cycle, compared to 2.87 kg of CO2e for 1 kg of displaced virgin pulp, the report says. One kg of deinked pulp uses, on average, 6.72 megajoule of non-renewable energy in its life cycle compared to 1 kg of virgin pulp that uses, on average, 22.57 MJ over its life-cycle.

The report identifies four key areas where data variability and assumptions might affect results, namely:

  • The amount of energy used in pulping.
  • The fuel mix used in pulping.
  • The environmental impact characterization method used in the model.
  • The method for allocating recycling benefits in the model.

The analysis shows that, even considering the range of possible values for these key areas, using recovered fiber reduces negative environmental impacts for the majority of the environmental impact categories studied.

Environ says that the report debunks any myths promoted by magazine and paper industries that question the environmental benefits of using recycled fiber in publication-grade paper. The production of magazine paper in the US emits more than 7.2 million metric tons of CO2e each year, Environ says.

If National Geographic does begin using recycled paper for its magazines, it will join a growing list that includes large and small publications such as Fast Company, Audubon, YES! and Ranger Rick – all of which have been using recycled paper for a long time, Environ says.

In September, the National Geographic Society and fellow publishers Time Inc., Macmillan, and Pearson formed a partnership with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative eco-label in a bid to help spur the growth of certification to preserve and protect forests. By the end of 2014, SFI Forest Partners aims to certify 5 million acres of forests to the SFI 2010-2014 standard. By the end of 2017, the program hopes to certify 10 million acres of forest across the United States and Canada.

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