Print media and the environment

When using any form of print media, there’s always the question of environmental impact. Unlike TV or digital, print conjures up a number of preconceptions powered by a series of myths about the use of paper for advertisements, mailings, door drops, leaflets and brochures. There are a number of pressures placed upon the brand owner to ensure their environmental credentials are watertight. Consumer demands, Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and the constantly developing area of legal compliance all put sustainability firmly in the spotlight when creating any form of marketing campaign.

The creation of print media can be split into three stages: production, printing and consumption. For each point along this journey, there are a large number of industry processes, assessments and safeguards that significantly reduce the environmental impact of print media. Because of its importance, the issue of sustainability is also one of the most heavily researched areas in the print media sector, ensuring that the industry continues to do everything in its power to be as efficient as possible.



Paper is a uniquely renewable and sustainable product. The main raw materials, trees, are grown and harvested in a carefully controlled and sustainable way - so successfully that European forests, where 85% of the European Pulp and Paper industry's raw material comes from, grew by an area the size of Switzerland between 2005 and 2015.

Forests used in the paper-making industry are also well managed and sustainable, with certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) ensuring that paper used in newspapers and magazines, plus catalogues and other forms of marketing comes from sustainable forest sources.

The European pulp and paper industry produces original bio-based products using wood, a renewable material. It is also the biggest single industrial user and producer of renewable energy in the EU: 56% of the industry’s total primary annual energy consumption is biomass-based.


The printing process is constantly becoming more environment-friendly, refining its materials and processes to reduce its impact. One of the major ways printers do this is through ‘environmental printing’, a commitment whereby they strive to reduce their carbon footprint across the entire company. This is done through the use of vegetable-based inks, recycling cleaning solvents and waste, sourcing paper from sustainable and well-managed forests, and offsetting any remaining carbon emissions.


Of course, one of the best ways the printing industry reduces its environmental impact is through the use of recycled paper. Paper is one of the world’s most recycled materials – far more than plastics or glass – and is one of the few materials that’s able to be completely recycled.

The European recycling rates for paper reached 72% in 2014 – the highest ever recorded. In some regions, recycling rates range from 70-75%, which is likely the practical maximum recycling rate. Some paper products cannot be recovered for recycling because they are kept for long periods of time (books) or archived (records); others are destroyed or contaminated when used (e.g. tissue and hygienic paper). Paper is recycled, on average, 3.5 times a year in Europe, while over 50% of the raw material for Europe’s paper industry is paper for recycling. Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely as fibres get too short and worn out to be useful in creating a new sheet of paper. More importantly, the production cannot be based on 100% recycled fibre as 100% of consumption cannot be collected. The paper-cycle must therefore constantly be refilled with new fibres


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