The surprising reality of who should go print and who should go digital
BY MOLLY SMITH FOR GREENING OF OIL
Sunday morning; a time when the hectic week slows down just long enough for me to thoroughly enjoy a drawn out breakfast of coffee and multi-grain bagel with schmear and delight of all delights: the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.
While during the week I religiously do the 15x15 grid crossword, Sunday is the real challenge, with the grid measuring 25x25 and the clues ranging from the ineffable to the incredible (there are more synonyms for the word “vivacity” than are really necessary).
I’ve been doing at least one crossword a day for 4 years. Quite apart from expanding my vocabulary and giving me something to do when I should be studying, studies have shown that doing a crossword a day helps improve brain function, and fights against memory diseases such as Alzheimers.
When I picked up last Sunday’s paper I gleefully pulled out the stack of glossy ads, coupon catalogues and shuffled through the local news, region, obituaries, business, religion, outdoors, health, funnies and special bulletins, pulled out the coveted crossword and left the remainder of the paper in a shambled mess.
As I returned to my coffee and bagel, I was struck by an unexpected pang of environmentalist guilt. All that newspaper, and I had only utilized a tiny square.
How much energy had gone into making that paper? How much ink? How much pollution had been expelled into the air? How many trees had been cut down and pulverized in order to produce this single edition, 98 percent of which I was wasting?
Time to find out just how smart, papers covered with information about the world around us, really are.
Newspapers have been in existence in the United States since 1690, when Benjamin Harris published “Public Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick” on four sheets of paper and distributed them all throughout Boston. Now, 320 years later, there are around 1,452 different newspapers published every single day.
If an average large newspaper (think the New York Times or USA Today) is about 40 pages long (Sunday editions average six times that), that’s 50,080 pieces of paper. And that’s only if each newspaper published one copy of the news, when in reality, circulations can reach thousands or even millions in magnitude! That's a lot of paper.
Exactly how much paper is used?
Every day, Americans buy 62 million newspapers, 44 million of which are thrown out. Over the next decade, it is projected that Americans will throw 10 million tons of newspapers straight into landfills.
Most, if not all, newspapers are recyclable. If everyone in the US recycled just one tenth of their newspapers, it would save an estimated equivalent of 25 million trees every year.
And just how many trees does it take to make a newspaper? Well, it takes 75,000 trees to print one day’s circulation of the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Multiply that by the 52 Sundays in a year and that comes out to 3,900,000 trees. Think about that for a minute. It takes 3,900,000 trees to print a years worth of Sunday editions of the New York Times.
There are only 26,000 trees in Central Park. That’s 150 Central Park’s worth of trees.
If not cut down to be processed into paper pulp, what else could these trees be doing? Well, one tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air every year. Additionally, trees are one of, if not the most effective, methods of removing C02, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.
A healthy tree stores about 13 pounds of carbon every year, or about 2.6 tons per acre. An acre of healthy, new-growth trees could absorb enough C02 during the course of a year to equal the amount produced by driving a car 26,000 miles. Living trees also improve the general quality of life by providing beauty, aesthetic delight, and shade for humans, as well as being essential organisms in ecosystems, functioning as homes and food sources for many creatures.
What is the solution? Cancel your newspaper subscription? Thanks to the advent and now widespread use of on-the-go internet devices like PDA’s, Blackberry’s, iPhones and tablets, newspaper circulation has decreased quite a bit. However, it’s not a cure-all. What about all the energy that goes into powering those devices? How is that affected?
A 2004 study compared the soup to nuts environmental impact of reading a hard copy of The New York Times with reading it on a PDA device.
The immediate results of the study were what you would expect; reading the news off the piece of hardware resulted in huge reductions of the release of carbon dioxide, water, nitrogen and sulfur oxides (chemicals and solutions associated with the construction of a normal, paper newspaper).
However, a more recent analysis of the same study, published out of the KTH Center for Sustainable Communication in Stockholm, Sweden compared a printed newspaper with it’s web equivalent and it’s version delivered to PDA readers.
This time, the study took into account factors like energy use for editorial work, the energy used to manufacture the electric components of the devices as well as the paper, etc. The results were not as cut and dry as the first study.
Interestingly enough, the study showed that reading the news online for up to 30 minutes, resulted in reduced C02 emissions than would otherwise have been emitted from generating a newspaper. However, this was only the case in Sweden. In a wide, more inclusive European market, reading the news online for 30 minutes, resulted in the printed product being more eco-friendly.
When is print more eco-friendly?
Well, it has to do with the concentration of power which is feeding those devices. In Sweden, most of the power is clean energy, coming from nuclear or hydroelectric facilities. In the rest of Europe and the United States, the majority of our energy comes from sources like coal and oil.
To sum up, there is a tipping point; a point at which reading a paper online because, in essence, more energy intense than reading a paper newspaper.
So, what does all this mean for us news junkies? Just be smart. If you are the type of person who reads The New York Times from A1 to L10, in the United States anyway, it is more environmentally practical for you to read the paper edition. However, if you, like me, covet only one 25x25 section, it would perhaps be worth investigating online resources.
While doing research for this article, I was pondering ways in which I could practice what I preach.
I never buy newspapers anyway; they are littered around the campus libraries, perfectly good, with the occasional coffee ring stain. Still, I did feel a twinge of guilt every time I carefully tore my coveted crossword out of the lifestyle section.
What if someone just had to read that review of Hot Tub Time Machine on the back?
My solution? I bought a crossword book. 75 classic crosswords reprinted from the New York Times (edited by none other than Will Shorts, my hero). I’ve had the book for a while now and haven’t even finished all the puzzles.
It’s also quite portable and easy to throw in my bag as I head out the door, instead of fussing with 40 sheets of newsprint. If I just HAVE to know what’s going on in the world (although the oil spill in the Gulf is so heartbreakingly sad I cannot bring myself to read all the coverage) I have The New York Times tabbed on my computer homepage and can pull it up whenever I want.
Like most things in life, practice moderation in all things, including moderation. To make a difference without inconvenience, try getting the bulk of your news online, or via television (just turn it off when you aren’t watching it). However, there is no need to deny yourself the occasional pleasure of sitting down in your favorite bathrobe, with a steaming hot cup of coffee and delicately toasted multi grain bagel and opening the Sunday edition of The New York Times and partaking in all the news that’s fit to print.
Just be sure to wipe the ink from your fingertips before licking off the cream cheese. And toss the paper in the recycle bin when you’re done.
Links of interest
Colorado Tree Coalition
Slate: Should I Cancel My Newspaper Subscription?
TIME: Staying Sharp: Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?
NYT: Skip the Newspaper, Save the Planet?
About Molly Smith
Molly Smith hails from a small rare-breeds farm in Woolrich, Pennsylvania. Growing up she was an active participant in 4-H, Project Grass, Envirothon and Dairy Promotion. After her graduation from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in 2007, Smith moved to New York to begin undergraduate work at Cornell University. As a Natural Resources major in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, Smith has found ample opportunities to develop her interests in sustainable agriculture, conservation ecology and wildlife biology. On campus, she is an active participant in Forword Women’s Literary Magazine, Society for Natural Resources and Conservation and the Developmental Fencing Club. When not working, Molly enjoys rock climbing, yoga, playing scrabble and discovering new music.
Contact Molly Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.