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Print Media - Indian Circular Economy

Currently, news media in India is undergoing a digital revolution. The surge in affordable smartphones and economical mobile data has encouraged a shift from print to digital news media consumption.

Print Media - Indian Circular Economy.
Print Media - Indian Circular Economy. Source: AI-Generated.

The younger generations, comfortable with technology, want instant updates and the interactive experience offered by digital platforms with features like live feeds, following hashtags, and sharing multimedia content. This shift has challenged print media, declining readership, especially among the young, and a migration of advertising revenue to digital platforms have squeezed profits. Further, the rising cost of paper and distribution hampers the economic viability of print news media.

Global Paper and Paperboard Market.
Global Paper and Paperboard Market. Source: Resource Information Systems Inc (RISI), Feb. 2019.

However, to survive in the market, many print news media have already established an online presence, offering content for free or through subscriptions. Further, recognizing the power of local news, some print news media offer digital editions in regional languages focusing on specific regions. But, the future of Indian print media seems to coexist with digital media, thanks to the readers seeking in-depth analysis or a physical reading experience.

Print Media - Indian Circular Economy

The transition from print to digital media slowly destroyed the well-established system prioritizing resource recovery and waste minimization. The reuse of newspapers, particularly by Indian street vendors, silently supported a sustainable future.

Street Food Vendors Using Newspapers For Serving Snacks.
Street Food Vendors Using Newspapers For Serving Snacks. Source: Sanjana Shenoy, Curly Tales, Sept. 2022.

The seemingly simple act played a crucial role in the circular economy of India. Indian street vendors expertly repurpose newspapers as packaging material for their goods. From wrapping fruits and vegetables to packaging street food, old newspapers were reused as a cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastics. Such practices are encouraged to reduce operational costs, consistently minimizing environmental impact by diverting waste from landfills. The repurposed old newspaper further extends the lifecycle and maximizes its value.

However, the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) issued an advisory for "restricting the use of newspaper as food packaging material" based on printing ink containing multiple bioactive materials, and the presence of pathogenic microorganisms in used newspapers. This is another point of debate, and we are ignoring the said potential risks based on the hazard ratio.

Traditional stand-alone pulp mill with closed chemical loop
Traditional stand-alone pulp mill with closed chemical loop. Source: Metso RECOX Boiler.

Being an Environmental Consultant with expertise in Carbon Footprint computation, EnviroChem Services (OPC) Pvt. Ltd. has estimated the carbon footprint reduction from reusing old newspapers by following simplified calculations.

Considering a reutilization of 20 old newspapers per day per vendor and 100 grams of an average 4-page newspaper weight, one can save up to 2.0 kg/Day of new paper.

For one year, 365 days, this new paper-saving comes to be 0.73 MT per vendor. Based on our experiences of the computation of the carbon footprint, 1 kg of newspaper production from virgin wood pulp generated roughly 1.47 kg.CO2eq emissions.

Paper Production Life Cycle.
Paper Production Life Cycle. Source: D.M. de Oliveira et. al. Waste Paper... Polymers, 15, 426, 2023.

We have purposefully not considered the emissions from the butter paper, styrofoam dishes, and other single-use materials utilized by the vendor in the absence of the old newspaper. We are not doing a Life Cycle Assessment.

Hence, simply reusing old newspapers by a single vendor can prevent over 1.07 tonnes of CO2eq emissions annually, equivalent to 1 carbon credit.

From 1000 vendors reusing only ten old newspapers daily, we get straight away 1000 carbon credits.

Greed is a powerful motivator.

Wait, this journey of a newspaper doesn't end here. We have not conducted a quantitative analysis of the complete cycle, from virgin wood pulp paper production to recycled paper production, followed by Vendor repurchase and reuse.

Circular Opportunities across a Product Life Cycle.
Circular Opportunities across a Product Life Cycle. Source: Bain & Company.

We agree that the utilization of virgin papers in some applications is unavoidable. But for newspapers, we can replace a significant portion with recycled paper. Utilization of recycled papers reduces the dependence or reliance on virgin wood pulp.

Here, we are considering only a 10% utilization of old newspapers with virgin wood pulp. This directly reduces the consumption of 0.109 tonnes of wood pulp per tonne of newspaper production, saving 63 average trees annually.

We are focusing on the carbon credits only, therefore ignoring the economic benefits from newspaper sales and after-sales of old newspapers to the recyclers. Also, we ignored the carbon emission reduction from the saved trees.

Further, one can argue about the carbon emissions from the transportation of old newspapers from end users to the recycling facilities and from the recycling facilities to the paper production units.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Scope.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Scope. Source: Adobe Stock graphic.

Specifically for the Indian recycling market, significant recyclers utilize man-powered modes of transportation like lorries, handcarts, or tricycles to transport old newspapers from end users to the sudo unit hub of the recycler. Also, when we consider the total distance traveled by the virgin wood pulp with recycled newspaper, the earlier is more than the later. Comparatively, recycled newspapers will have a net carbon-negative impact. Therefore, we are ignoring the same in our calculations.

Moreover, as said earlier, by utilizing 10% of newspapers for the pulping process, the paper manufacturer utilizes comparatively less water and energy with virgin pulp production, reducing GHG emissions by around 400 kg.CO2eq.

The collected old newspapers can also be sold to companies that make paper bags or other products used by street vendors, reducing the demand for virgin plastic bags, potentially saving 9.6 kg/Day of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) dishes, and allowing further claiming of 10 carbon credits.

Pollution in Mumbai.
Pollution in Mumbai. Source: Southern_Opposite747, Reddit.

Coming back to where we started, vendors purchase these paper bags made from recycled newspapers, continuing the loop.

Out of curiosity, did you ever think that reusing newspapers minimizes the need for plastic bags, a significant source of plastic pollution?

Hint: The calculation of 9.6 kg/Day of plastic saved earlier showcases this impact.

The print media, newspapers, was a champion of India's circular economy, is now struggling. By promoting newspapers, efficient recycling infrastructure, and vendor adoption of recycled paper products, India can significantly reduce its carbon footprint, conserve precious resources, and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

Start subscribing to at least two newspapers, collect them properly, and sell them to the nearest recycler.

Reach us for more insights about carbon footprints and circular economy.

We are "Engineering Environment for Better Tomorrow."

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