TORONTO, ON, Sept. 30, 2010 (RISI) -I took a trip to the local recycling depot the other day. I had a load of old paperback books that I hadn't read in years, so I thought that someone else might get some enjoyment from them. Rather than throwing them in a bin to be repulped I carefully lined them up on a shelf provided for recyclers, thus ensuring the content could be read again by people who didn't mind dog ears. In that way, someone else would get some value from them. I think that value is the key word here, and that is the message the paper industry has to get out about its products.
We in the paper industry have maybe been too complacent and now we have to be proactive about public relations. Consumers need to be reminded about the lasting value of paper as a medium for a printed message and compare it to the supposed "greenness" of electronic media which proponents say does not contain trees. In my opinion, that is a bunch of greenwashing aimed a selling a lot of state-of-the-art equipment to eager techies. It does work though.
But state-of-the-art in electronic technology is a fleeting concept. In a few short years and after a few new generations of iPads and Kindles have come and gone those original e-readers we are buying now will be obsolete electronic junk and will join the mountains of discarded computers. And that leads to another anecdote. A few years ago took an old computer which had expired to a so-called recycling depot. I was not sure about the image I had in mind about electronic recycling but the rather scruffy looking gentleman who greeted me dispelled any notion of high technology. I was asked to literally throw it in into an outside bin where other relics were covered with snow. I am not making this up; it really did look like a dinosaur graveyard. I should have given it to a school - if they would take it. But, unlike paper books, these not-so-old but obsolete electronics cannot be given away usually since they have minimal value, and most heavy users of electronic communications would shun them. Have you tried lately to give away an 8-track tape player or a Beta VCR? So they end up as toxic junk in someone else's backyard.
On the other hand, printed paper has a lasting value as a means of communication. It can have a very long lifecycle - even centuries. That in itself does not ensure the paper industry will thrive since hand-me-downs do not promote growth. But the view of paper as a valuable means of conveying a message which far outlasts fickle electronics will help to build trust in the industry and may help to sustain it. Paper does survive quite well and thus is a durable medium and certainly very comfortable for many of us. In the worst case, it can be recycled using proven, minimally invasive techniques to live another day.
Let's get the word out that paper is trustworthy and has a lasting value. Also, we must make it known that paper recycling is high-tech and electronic recycling is low-tech, if it exists at all. Creating some excitement to compete with e-readers may be difficult, but let's try our best.