Less Paper, Fewer Books
Browsing at an independent bookstore, having the author sign your copy at a launch, tearing the gift wrap off a new book at the holidays, settling into your favorite chair with a fresh hardcover in your hands. It doesn’t get much better than this.
That’s assuming the book is available. If it’s out of stock, late to ship, or up in price, it may be because the publisher can’t get enough paper. Two reasons for the current paper shortage are side effects of environmental progress, Forbes reported in June.
First, recycling has gotten easier and more pervasive. We can throw all recyclables in one bin and include most any kind of paper. The resulting fibers are dirtier, harder to turn into book- or magazine-quality paper. Second, commercial packaging has shifted away from plastic in favor of paper and cardboard. Mills that retool to meet this demand no longer make as much paper suitable for books.
Next time I relish a physical book, I’ll try not to take its pages for granted.
Hear, hear! It's complicated, though. The more difficult it is to set things out for recycling, the less people will bother to recycle. The trees will be fine - most non-recycled paper in North America is made from tree-farm trees, not old growth forest - but the landfills will fill up uncontrollably.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.