The greenhouse gas emissions produced by a single newspaper during its entire life cycle correspond to a car journey of approximately one kilometre. The carbon footprint of a book bought from a store is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of a car journey of approximately 7 kilometres. The research gives information about the environmental impacts’ magnitude related to products of the print products’ group.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland recently published a study on the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of newspapers, magazines, photo books, books, and advertising leaflets. The case studies were based on a life cycle assessment that followed print products from cradle to grave: fibre supply, paper production, printing, transport, use, and recycling and waste management.
The carbon footprint is a useful indicator of climate impacts. It measures the greenhouse gases produced during the life cycle of print products. International ISO standards for carbon footprints of products and organisations are under development.
The outcome of research is extensive knowledge about environmental impacts of print products. Among all the evaluated environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of newspapers the most significant are climate change, acidification, the depletion of fossil and mineral resources, and the formation of particulate matter. These impacts are mainly attributable to energy production and consumption (electricity, heating, and fuels) during the production process.
The carbon footprint of newspapers mostly comprises emissions caused by the electricity and heat production required for making the product as well as greenhouse gas emissions resulting from transport. In addition, methane is produced as a result of the decomposition of newspapers deposited in landfill sites.
Emissions resulting from the use of purchased electricity in paper production and printing are responsible for approximately 50% of the carbon footprint of a typical Finnish newspaper. If all of the purchased electricity required for the production of newspapers constituted what is known as ‘green electricity’, such as wind power or hydropower, the carbon footprint of a typical Finnish newspaper would drop by approximately 40%.
The carbon footprint of an annual volume of daily newspapers amounts to approximately 75 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents and that of a single newspaper to approximately 210 g. The carbon footprint of an annual volume of daily newspapers is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of a car journey of 456 kilometres.
The carbon footprint of an annual volume of weekly magazines is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of a journey of 45 kilometres by a car. Based on the assumptions made in the study, the greenhouse gas emissions produced over the entire life cycle of a single magazine are therefore equivalent to a car journey of approximately one kilometre.The carbon footprint of a book is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of a journey about 7 kilometres by a car. According to calculations, the carbon that remains bound to a printed paper product such as a book reduces after five years the carbon footprint caused by the production stage by approximately 5%. After 100 years, the drop is approximately 75%. In the study, the life cycle of books was followed from the sourcing of raw materials to the retailer’s warehouse. The last stage of the life cycle (recycling and waste management) was excluded from the examination.
The contribution of newspapers, books, and other paper products to the climate impacts of consumption by Finnish households in 2005 was small (approximately 1%). The biggest climate impacts of consumption by Finnish households were attributable to housing (28%), food products (16%), and transport (13%).
A life cycle assessment is a useful way for evaluating the potential environmental impacts of products comprehensively. The most efficient way to reduce environmental impacts is to lower the consumption of energy and fuels at different stages of the life cycle. Other important ways to reduce environmental impacts include reducing the amount of raw materials and using materials more efficiently. Readers can reduce climatic effects by sorting their waste more thoroughly, thereby reducing the number of print products that are taken to landfills with household waste. No previous generic life cycle assessments related to print products have been carried out in Finland.
The three-year project was commissioned by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation and coordinated by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The project was carried out in collaboration with the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), the Federation of Finnish Media Industry, and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, as well as several printing houses and organisations involved in the print media value chain. Apart from the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, the project was sponsored by the Graphic Industry Research Foundation of Finland (GTTS), Metsäliitto Group, Myllykoski Corporation, Stora Enso Group, and UPM-Kymmene Corporation.