Penguin transitions to 100% recycled paper in book production

Taking its approach to environmental responsibility to the next level, Penguin Random House India (PRHI) has recently announced that it is transitioning its book production to use 100% recycled paper. The shift will take place in a phased manner and has already begun with the printing of text content in books on this eco-friendly paper.

27 Nov 2023 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma

Ajay Joshi: The journey towards a sustainable future has just begun and we are ready for any teething issues at the initial stages

Sanjiv Gupta, COO, Penguin Random House India, said, “We recognise the urgent need to address the environmental challenges associated with using paper in publishing. We have been testing 100% recycled content paper for some time now, and we are not only assured of its organic source and ecological production process but also ensured that it doesn’t diminish the reading experience. This development aligns with the energy and environmentally efficient practices we have been adapting over time.”

Penguin sources this 100% recycled paper from an Indian paper mill, and it was developed with careful observations that meet Penguin’s paper and production quality. This paper is made from raw material that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world's forests. 

Ajay Joshi, vice-president, supply chain and production, Penguin Random House India, who is leading this transition for the company, said “FSC mix is a mix of material from FSC-certified forests and controlled woods. FSC recycled indicates paper made of 100% recycled raw material. The paper we are using to print the text content in our books is 100% recycled paper which is made from FSC-certified raw materials. The difference is a fine line but very pertinent in the world of recycled materials.”

He added, “Penguin recognises the immense responsibility we shoulder as users of paper. Therefore, being eco-friendly and having sustainable practices are of utmost importance. We were one of the first players in India to adopt FSC mix-certified paper and transitioning to a superior quality recycled paper can make a big difference in our endeavour towards sustainability and environmental stewardship. The fact that not only are we closely working with a local paper mill in India that uses raw materials that are certified by the FSC but also that the production process is inherently more eco-friendly, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and consuming less energy, thereby tangibly reducing our carbon footprint while aligning with our global efforts.”

While Indian paper mills have been manufacturing recycled paper for a while now, there have been concerns about varying quality. So, what would Penguin’s benchmark for quality be? 

Joshi agreed that while recycled paper has been in the foray in India for years, few paper mills took the initiative to develop publishing-friendly recycled paper. Even today, there are only a handful of mills working in this direction. 

“I hope our initiative will encourage other mills to address the needs of the hour,” he said, adding, “For PRH India, the paper quality means consistency of bulk, shade, delivery, and other aspects. As most publishing houses worldwide use high-bulk paper with a common favourite being the natural shade of paper, for universal acceptance within the global Penguin business, our initial task was to deliver a paper that either did not compromise or had negligible variation in the paper shade and quality. The ability and speed with which we can transition is dependent on the availability and supply chain of this paper and we are working with a local paper mill to oversee the demand and supply.”

And how have the company’s print partners reacted to this decision to shift to 100% recycled paper? 

“Our print partners are our strength and they have always stood by us,” Joshi said. “They were supportive in testing this product which played a big role in making this transition possible. The journey towards a sustainable future has just begun and we are ready for any teething issues at the initial stages, but I am confident that with the support of our partners, we will be able to overcome any challenges in this endeavour.” 

PRH produces more than 300 new titles annually with a backlist of at least 3,000 titles. Will all these titles be printed on recycled paper from now on, or a percentage of it? Joshi said the ability and speed with which the company can transition are dependent on the availability and supply chain of this paper. “This is why working with a local paper mill in India is helpful because we can oversee the demand and supply. We have other factors to keep in mind before we can go all out, for example, the books already in stock and stores. Therefore, it is prudent to manage the effort and scale up our production in a phased manner,” he added.

He said it took us almost a year to test the desired parameters. There were numerous samplings, periodic meetings, and discussions with the mill to ensure that the product met the company standards and expectations. “I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the mill here for their tireless efforts and unwavering cooperation in delivering on their commitment,” he added.

Keeping up with its commitment to sustainability, PRH India recently installed a case sealer from Stelda to convert BOPP tapes to hot glue. Joshi said the case sealer installation has been a great success. 

“We have saved approximately 2.5-mt of strapping, and 4000 BOPP tape rolls ever since we shifted to case sealer earlier this year. We will continue to advance our initiatives, small or big, towards creating an eco-friendly environment. In addition to utilising recycled paper, we’re conscientiously reducing the use of plastic in our supply chain. We’ve transitioned to employing biodegradable or recycled plastic materials. To make it energy-efficient, we have completely switched to LED lights from halogen lights in our warehouse,” Joshi concluded.