Thanks to renewable raw material, a low carbon footprint and efficient recycling options, print media remains one of the most sustainable choices for mass communication. Paper also represents durable and emotional value for many people.
“Letters, photos or important documents are still saved in printed form. According to several studies, print is also associated with positive learning experiences, says Stefanie Eichiner, Manager of Environmental Market Support CE at UPM Paper ENA.
“For example, people remember things better when they write notes on paper instead of typing on a laptop. They have to concentrate and think about what they are listening to when they write down key points, triggering more neural connections in the brain and enhancing the learning process.”
There are similar studies confirming the advantages of reading books. Students learn better when flipping pages instead of skimming and scrolling text on screen. “Evidence suggests that print media supports fluent reading and writing skills that are required in all professions. This is why UPM is very keen to improve young people’s reading skills through several learning projects around the world,” she says.
The ecological footprint of media
“All forms of media consumption inevitably have an ecological impact. In Germany, for example, people spend an average of 30 minutes a day reading news articles. The ecological impact is higher, however, if they spend this time on electronic devices instead of reading news in print. Electronic devices consume energy continuously to keep the content available and updated."
“In Germany, a newspaper is read on average by three consumers, which makes it ecologically more favorable than e-news.”
“The ecological footprint of print media consumption is even lower when there are several people who read the same newspaper or magazine within a household — a very typical situation — and then recycle the paper afterwards. In this respect, print outperforms online devices. This is especially true in countries like Germany, where we have a lot of coal-fired power plants for producing energy,” says Eichiner.
“Paper manufactures are important producers and users of renewable energy. Renewable energy accounts for more than half of the power used for paper production. UPM is the second largest generator of biomass-based electricity in Europe, with biomass-based fuels accounting for up to 69% of the fuels used.”
Circular economy in action
Paper offers an excellent example of the circular economy. In Europe, the paper recycling rate is over 70% on average.
“This is an outstanding achievement, but I believe there’s still room for improvement. In Europe there are several countries that could increase their rate significantly through awareness and more efficient recycling systems,” emphasises Eichiner.
But not even paper can be recycled endlessly. “We have to add also virgin fibre at some stage. Wood fibre can be recycled up to seven times, but after that it gets too short and weak to form paper anymore. Then it can be burned to generate energy.”
UPM is the world’s largest user of recovered paper in the production of its graphic papers, consuming 2.8 million tonnes of recovered paper last year. Recycled fibre represents one third of all fibre materials used in UPM’s paper production.
In 2014, around 42 million tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide — but only a tiny part of it ends up being recycled sustainably. E-waste contains hazardous but also valuable and scarce materials that are thrown away and end up in landfills or forgotten in drawers. Most countries lack an effective recycling system for electronic devices. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, fewer than 10% of mobile phones are dismantled and reused.
Comparing the advantages of print and electronic media, Eichiner states that both have their place in the current media world and ideally they can round each other out in fields such as advertising. “According to statistics, the return on online advertising investments is 62% higher and the return on TV advertising campaigns 37% higher when they are combined with direct marketing by mail,” she reveals.
“One reason for this is that 70% of consumers keep sales catalogues in their homes for over one month, and 34% keep them for over a year. They like to keep the catalogues and read them to seek information and inspiration over and over again,” she reflects.
Eichiner is very confident that paper has a bright future due to all of the ecological advantages offered by print media.
“The paper industry has a long tradition using well-established ecolabels for forest management and paper production, guaranteeing that the end products fulfill the highest environmental standards. The process of tracing the entire supply chain for electronic devices is much less developed,” she notes.
This summer UPM Paper ENA announced that all its mills produce papers that are awarded with the EU Ecolabel. The UPM Hürth paper mill completed the full range in June, when its products received the EU Ecolabel certificate. The EU Ecolabel covers the product's whole lifecycle, which makes it the broadest ecolabel available on the market. The EU Ecolabel is now available for over 200 UPM Paper ENA products.