Paper is biodegradable, even if The Sunday Times may say no (with comments from IPMA, BMPA and FTPA)

Industry voices, the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA), the Federation of Paper Traders’ Association of India (FTPA), and the Bombay Master Printers' Association (BMPA) join in the protest against the The Sunday Times

04 Sep 2015 | By Sachin Shardul

The Sunday Times reported on 30 August that paper is not biodegradable. The report caused shock waves in the Indian print industry. Print technologist, Sachin Shardul says the paper is produced from 100% natural ingredients. Today, even plastic and Tetra Pak cartons can be recycled and be used for manufacturing school utility products like benches, chairs, playground equipment etc., since they are tough and durable. 
With Wan-Ifra being hosted in Mumbai, he argues why the newspaper houses should combat what he sees as environmental misconceptions about print and paper use.
Today, the paper industry produces a majority of the paper pulp by recycling waste paper, pulping agricultural residues like wheat straw, paddy straw and sugarcane bagasse. In India, 46% of the paper is produced by usage of waste paper – through the process of recycling. Around 22% of the paper is produced using agricultural residues like wheat straw, paddy straw and bagasse. Only 32% of the Indian paper Industry uses wood as the raw material for manufacturing paper.
These are the facts.
Be it, wood pulp or plant fiber, this has always been the case. The earliest paper was papyrus, made from reeds by the ancient Egyptians. Paper was manufactured by the Chinese in the second century. This paper was made from tree bark and old fish netting.
The knowledge of paper making moved westward, and the first European paper mill was built at Jativa, in the province of Valencia, Spain, around 1150. By the end of the 15th century, paper mills existed in Italy, France, Germany, and England, and by the end of the 16th century, paper was being made throughout Europe.
The process is green friendly.
During the recent Green webinar hosted by PrintWeek India on 23 July 2015, ITC PSPD informed the audience that they have total plantations of 1,63,000 hectares, which generates over 73 million person-days of employment. In addition, ITC has facilitated the certification of 22, 804 hectares of plantations which are owned by more than 24,000 small and marginal farmers.
Paper science
Paper, whether produced in the modern factory or by the delicate hand methods, is made up of connected fibers. The fibers can come from a number of sources including cloth rags, cellulose fibers from plants, and, most notably, trees. The use of cloth in the process has always produced high-quality paper. Today, a large proportion of cotton and linen fibers in the mix create many excellent papers for special uses, from wedding invitation paper stock to special paper for pen and ink drawings.
The fiber used for paper comes from wood that has been purposely harvested. The remaining material comes from wood fiber from sawmills, recycled newspaper, some vegetable matter, and recycled cloth. Coniferous trees, such as spruce and fir, used to be preferred for paper making because the cellulose fibers in the pulp of these species are longer and are ideal for stronger paper. These trees are called "softwood" by the paper industry. Deciduous trees (leafy trees such as poplar and elm) are called "hardwood." Because of the increasing demand for paper, and improvements in pulp processing technology, almost any species of tree can now be harvested for paper.
In areas without significant forests, bamboo has been used for paper pulp, as has straw and sugarcane. Laucaena leucocephala or locally known as Subabul tree is also used for manufacturing paper pulp. The wood of this tree is soft and is rich with fibre content.
North Maharashtra is witnessing a growing number of farmers who are looking at this tree plantation as a safe and money return option. 
Paper forecast
India’s demand for paper is expected to rise by 53% in the next six years, primarily due to a sustained increase in the number of school-going children in rural areas and increase in the regional newspapers.
Growing consumerism, modern retail, rising literacy and - hopefully - government spending on education through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. In the clamour for Digital India, there are hundreds of me-too education products chasing schools and their limited budgets. You have books, smart class, content on CDs, laboratories- computer, mathematics, robotics, do-it-and learn kits,  portable labs, ebooks and so on. And yet, books enjoy the biggest share of the pie.
In the past two years, I have been working in rural Maharashtra in a small town in Jalgaon district. My father runs a school, Ankur Karn Badhir Vidyalaya, a special residency school for hearing handicapped. My assessment is, what a majority of schools need the most is, trained teachers backed with good quality books which are available for all.
Right now, books don't reach the last child.
This is one reason why India’s per capita consumption is low. Currently it is 15 million tonnes (mt) and expected to rise to an estimated 20 mt by 2020. India’s per capita paper consumption is at 12 kg, while it is 22 kg in Indonesia, 25 kg in Malaysia and 42 kg in China. The global average stands at 58 kg.
In the last five years, the Indian paper sector has invested about Rs 20,000 crore on capacity enhancement, technology upgrade and acquisitions.
One of the main reasons of growth in paper consumption is also because of the rise in the regional newspapers. North Maharashtra alone has more than 100 small newspapers.
Paper in Dhule
Dhule has more than 15 regional newspapers (small to medium), out of which six to seven newspapers are printed and circulated. Rest are "registered". But these six to seven Marathi regional newspapers are witnessing growth in terms of solid circulation numbers in the district.
When asked, what is the reason for the growth, Yogendra Juanagade, editor, publisher and owner of Daily Pathdarshi, says, “There are multiple reasons. The bigger Marathi newspapers have local news section which do not provide complete information. For example, if there is any local political meeting, or any other event, these big Marathi newspapers will give information of the event very briefly because they have a different set of target audience. The reader in Mumbai will not be interested in the news from Dhule as compared to the reader in Dhule. He will expect the big Marathi newspaper to provide information on national, international, state and to some extent regional information. But the reader in Dhule or surrounding district will be keen on reading the local news in detail. So the regional newspaper will have more detailed news on local activities as compared to the bigger Marathi newspaper.”
Junagade adds, “The regional or district level newspaper is comparatively priced lower and the local reader prefers to pay Rs 2 or Rs 3 for a newspaper as against Rs 5 or Rs 7 for bigger Marathi newspapers.”
Newspapers' main revenue originates through advertisements and the district level newspapers are witnessing a growth in the number of advertisement revenue too.
Junagade says, “If we compare the advertisement cost of mainstream Marathi newspaper versus district level or small regional Marathi newspaper, then there is a huge cost difference. The local regional newspaper is much cheaper as compared to a mainstream newspaper. For example, if the local advertiser wants to place an advertisement which is targeted for the local market, he or she will prefer to do it with local regional newspaper because the newspaper reaches his or her target audience at a lesser price.”            
Waste management
Today, paper manufacturing includes 75% forest wood, 20% waste paper and 5% of fibrous waste materials. The organic fibres which paper contains are vulnerable to contamination, particularly if paper is not collected separately from other waste materials. To produce one ton of paper, three tons of wood is required for which 15 to 17 green trees are cut. The waste paper can be used for manufacturing paper and paperboards which can be donated to create books for under-privileged school children from rural areas like Dhule for their education. Most of the children in Dhule are born into the family of farmers and daily wage workers; and are the poorest of the poor.
I suspect the situation is no different in other parts of India.
The paper recycling in India is very poor. The waste paper recycling industry in India is unorganised and informal. This includes scavengers, rag pickers, middlemen and business houses. This waste is collected and stored for segregation along with other materials which includes plastics, metals, glass etc. The quality is reduced in the process and the end result is low quality paper pulp.
In the past five years, Tetra Pak and ITC have proved how recycled material can be used for agro-packaging industry.
But this is a drop in a huge ocean.
A lot more needs to be done.
Print and paper advocacy group, Two Sides has launched a set of 11 European fact sheets to combat what it sees as environmental misconceptions of print and paper use.
During the last 20 years, forests in Europe have grown by 42m acres – an area twice the size of Portugal – and the European paper recycling rate is at an all-time-high of 72%.
Our role as the Indian print industry is to educate consumers and businesses that print and paper is a remarkable and sustainable means of communication.


In the last five years, the Indian paper industry has invested Rs 25,000 crore in capacity building and technology overhaul. In lieu of the raging controversy due to The Sunday Times labeling paper as "non bio-degradable", Sanjay Singh, the president of the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA) stated, "Contrary to popular perception, paper is a sustainable industry providing millions of jobs in the rural sector. Especially, organised paper industry has laid special thrust on sustainability, unmatched by many other industries. The paper industry is wood positive."

Singh added, "We grow more trees than we harvest. We recycle most of the waste paper that is generated. We recycle agricultural waste which otherwise would have been burnt in the fields. Integrated paper mills in India generate 60% of the power they use by utilising the black liquor from the pulping process. New breakthrough ideas are coming up to recycle the effluents. A few years ago, we used to consume 200 cubic metre of water to produce a tonne of paper. Now, the integrated mills have reduced this to 50 cubic metre. Efforts are on to bring it further down to 40 cubic metre. So, the perception that the paper industry is environmentally hazardous is grossly misplaced."
Singh said, India is one of the largest paper markets in the world with domestic consumption of paper estimated at 13.10 million tonnes per annum (tpa) in 2013-14. India ranks amongt the fastest growing markets for paper in the world. By 2024-25, under the baseline scenario, domestic consumption is projected to rise to 23.50 million tpa and in an optimistic scenario, the consumption is expected to rise to 36.90 million tpa.
He added, "Paper is still basic to education and projects such as ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ cannot be imagined without paper. Lifestyle changes are also leading to increase in packaging levels across different FMCG products and since paper is environment-friendly, being fully biodegradable, it is being preferred over many other materials. Given very low per capita paper consumption in India, its consumption is bound to go up in the foreseeable future."
Singh said, "An estimated 0.5 million farmers are engaged in growing plantations of trees like eucalyptus and subabul, over an estimated one million hectare."
The paper industry is wood positive. It grows more trees than it harvests. It recycles most of the waste paper it generates. It recycles agricultural waste which otherwise would have been burnt in the fields

The Sunday Times reported on 30 August that paper is not biodegradable. The report caused shock waves in the Indian print industry.

The premier print association in India, the Bombay Master Printer's Association has sent a letter to the national newspaper contesting what they see as a gross environmental misconception about print and paper use.
The BMPA letter says: "Permit us to draw your attention to a prominently titled, but badly researched report, published in the Mumbai’s edition of Sunday Times of India dated 30 August, 2015. The feature we draw reference to was captioned: “A sixth of city’s daily waste is plastic, paper and glass”.
The letter signed by the BMPA president Faheem Agboatwala, says, "In this report your newspaper pointedly tags ‘paper’ as Non-Biodegradable. That, as you are aware is so very far from the truth. Adding insult to the injury, the writer goes on to club paper with materials such as plastic, glass, tetra packs and aluminium foil." 
The letter raises a question about the falsifications by the paper published by the Bennett Coleman group.
- Does paper have any significance to the lives, livelihood and business at Bennett Coleman?
- What steps is Bennett Coleman taking, as ‘the leader who guides the reader’, to reduce its print runs and a portfolio of editions and title publication?
- How are you trimming down the paper waste you generate daily/annually?
- Are you aiming at destroying your business to rebuild it for the future?
The letter concludes with, "We seem to find your standard, over this particular instance, rather ‘preachy’ at the expense of all of us - businesses from the print, paper and allied industries of India."

Following the BMPA protest, the Federation of Paper Traders’ Association of India (FTPA) has objected to the Sunday Timesmisinformation which states that paper is not biodegradable.

Surprised by the incorrect data promoted in the article published on August 30 in the Sunday Times, the FTPA has sent a letter to the national newspaper requesting them to publish an article informing the mistake and to provide the correct information to the public.
The FTPA letter states, “Paper is bio-degradable and recyclable. Paper bio-degrades in two to five months whereas orange peels takes six months, tree leaves one year, glass bottles one million years and plastic bags 500 years to forever. Kindle update your knowledge and information on the paper- it’s recyclable and bio-degradable.”
The letter signed by the FTPA honorary secretary, Hiren Karia, said, “In your article you have mentioned that paper is not Bio-degradable which is totally wrong. Also you have put paper in the category of plastic and glass which is also incorrect. On the other hand, it is advisable to use more and more paper instead of plastic and bottles.”
The letter also raises question on the mention of a false name as a coordinator of NGO AGNI while the NGO clearly mentioned that they do not have any coordinator with that name in Mumbai.
FTPA, along with the letter has also sent in documents which supports their claim that paper can be recycled and is bio-degradable.

"The Indian newspaper reader penetration is huge. We are looking at more than 37,500 tonnes on newsprint per day, which gets read and discarded every day. If the Sunday Times scribe is to be believed, then newspapers import most of their requirement and are huge waste contributors. That is incorrect. Today, paper is the most biodegradable products in the garbage content."
Dev Nair, president of All India Federation of Master Printers

"Reading a newspaper on the iPad for 30 minutes is less green than a newspaper. Today thanks to computer technology, we generate more green house gases. There are thousands of myths being floated by a very powerful lobby about paper not being biodegradable. Our industry needs to counter this with data; and prove how paper is biodegradable and recyclable; along with a few grades of plastics and aluminium."
Kiran Prayagi, GATE