Rajendrakumar Anayath: Educating the educated

By 18 Jan 2021

A conversation happened between me and one of my first batch students (25 years ago, I taught him at MG University, Kottayam) on a topic “why we should stress for paper usage and printing?” He asked me: “You said paper is environment- friendly, and we should use paper more often because of its eco-friendliness. So, in order to manufacture this ‘environment- friendly paper’, we need to fell several trees.

Anayath: Newsprint can be recycled at least six times. On an average, around 72% of the paper in the world is already recycled

My question is: instead of printing so much paper, isn’t it better to read the same paper on our phones? If the phones can be recycled just like paper, can’t we avoid cutting down trees?” This is one of the biggest problems being faced by the print industry today. I replied: It is appalling that such questions are being raised by a person who has done Masters on the science of print.

The truth behind it is, we don’t cut any existing forests. Instead, we only cut those trees used for making paper, which is cultivated in marshlands. It is like agriculture, like cultivating paddy.

Given the technology advancements at our disposal, we can create a forest within five years. Companies such as ITC in India and some of the biggest paper production companies in Russia have made use of marshlands to plant and cultivate trees for paper production. Newsprint can be recycled at least six times. On an average, around 72% of the paper in the world is already recycled. It does not have any other energy loss. We can read something that is written or printed on paper over and over again, which does not consume energy, unlike electronic gadgets.

Furthermore, there is no robust technology to recycle or extract these devices today. Either it is harmful to human beings and the environment or it is expensive to recycle. Hence, we should not think or propagate that paper is a by-product of destroying forests and the environment. There are lakhs of people involved in the paper industry. They are actually “paper farmers”.

Who will give jobs to these people tomorrow? When we read through a printed medium, three processes such as reading, analysing and registering happens. Nothing is dynamic in this medium, but static. Apart from that, these forests developed for paper production give out tonnes of oxygen before they are cultivated. So, the total oxygen production increases due to the paper industry.

Keeping this in mind, I have jotted down some lines just below my signature in my email id: “It’s OK to print this email if necessary. Paper is a plentiful, biodegradable, renewable, recyclable, sustainable product made from trees. Producing paper and other forest products provide a livelihood for thousands of tree farmers and improve their socio-economic status.”

These lines highlight why we should protect the paper industry. Praveen, however, had one more question at his disposal: “From an age where information was passed through word of mouth and songs, we came to an era where we stored information in the form of texts in ezhuthola (palm leaf). After that came the invention of paper and printing. And now, we are living in the age of digitisation.

So, when there’s a new invention, doesn’t the process used before that conflict with the new one?” I educated him: Eight years ago, I attended a programme conducted by IBM. It was titled ‘Digital disruption has already happened’. I entirely agree with that. Digital disruption has happened, will happen, and should continue to happen, because we are moving towards Industry 4.0. Cloud computing, cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) together will change all functioning of a system.

This is true and we have to accept it. But during this day and age, until there is a robust mechanism to tackle e-waste, we must uphold the use of paper. The reason why I’m stressing on paper usage is because of the recent government circular, which is akin to Damocles sword. The circular states that no government firms will print calendars, diaries, greeting cards and other commercial products. Following that, private establishments and behemoths such as Reliance decided to not print any stationeries.

This move, which is wrong, hit the ‘printing farmers’ in their heart. We should not destroy this industry with the blink of an eye. It should be transitioned without affecting mankind, until there’s a breakthrough. That is our responsibility.

Dr Rajendrakumar Anayath is the vice chancellor at DCRUST 





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