Environmentally Responsible (and waterproof) Books

Via LISnews, I was intrigued to learn about a petition circulating the globe for books to be published on 100% recycled paper.

I think it’s great that authors want a more environmentally responsible book industry, but perhaps they’re barking up the wrong (dead) tree when it comes to paper.

No, I’m not referring to e-books[1], I’m taking about physical books with pages you can flip through…which aren’t made of paper.

My wife (a professor of the History of Art and Design) owns a copy of a book called Cradle to Cradle, which is “…printed on a synthetic ‘paper,’ made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged.”

Get the idea? The book is printed on ‘paper’ that isn’t made from dead trees.

If I understand what I’ve read on this correctly, you can’t recycle paper endlessly. The quality of the paper is reduced each time it is recycled and the paper-recycling usually involves toxic byproducts. With Durabooks™ like Cradle to Cradle, the same materials can be recycled to produce new books over and over again:

“…[T]he book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers. This ‘treeless’ book points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle-to-cradle cycles.”

You can read a bit more about DuraBooks™ here

More on Cradle to Cradle:


[1] There is another David Rothman who writes about e-books at teleread.org. We are not (as far as I can determine) related, but because this post includes mention of e-books, it seems to me a necessary courtesy to add this note of disambiguation for anyone who may find this page while looking for him. If you’re interested in e-books, you should absolutely be following his activities.

4 thoughts on “Environmentally Responsible (and waterproof) Books

  1. Ugh! More plastic in the landfills?!?! While paper does use trees, at least it degrades naturally (although I’m not sure about the potential toxicology of ink). This sounds suspiciously like the shopping bag debate: paper or plastic?

  2. Karen-

    How do I say this…?


    Landfills don’t even begin to be involved. As I wrote in the post:

    “With Durabooks™ like Cradle to Cradle, the same materials can be recycled to produce new books over and over again”

    These pages are completely recyclable and do not deteriorate with each cycle the way that paper made from wood does.

    Plastic grocery sacks are (hopefully) recycled into things like park benches. That makes ONE cycle. The materials with which Durabooks are made can be recycled again and again and again.

    A part of the idea behind Cradle to Cradle is not being clever by coming up with new ways to recycle and reuse the things we make, but rather designing things to BE endlessly reusable.

    The “paper or plastic” analogy is really, really far away from accurate. You don’t have to take my word for it, though- read the links.

    Paper made from wood really is environmentally problematic. The Durabook paper is much less problematic and provides all the same benefits of paper made from wood.

    Check out Cradle to Cradle from the nearest library you can. Read the argument. Feel the pages.



  3. Alright, I’m speaking without having taken the time to do the research, but I still think Karen has a point. Durabooks may be recyclable if you know where the heck to take them to get them recycled, but if it looks and feels like paper, the chances are that it is going to end up in a landfill. Until there is a big enough movement that people recognize Durabooks and understand what to do with them once they are done with them, they might as well be made of grocery bags.

    I do agree that pushing to make all books out of recyclable materials is at least a waste of time, and probably more dangerous to the environment than using new paper. It’s not like anyone is cutting down Amazon rain forests or endangered timberlands to make new books. The trees that are used to create paper are primarily (if not entirely, again I’d have to check my facts) grown on tree farms nowadays and were always planted so that they could be harvested and used. Recycling that paper is nice in that it doesn’t fill up landfills, but not so great in that it creates a concentrated mass of more hazardous ink and other waste that then needs to be disposed of. Add to that that the printed page is one of the safest things to throw into a landfill and I don’t see the strong argument for using recycled paper.

    People need to be aware that even though environmentalists often automatically associate recycling with doing the earth good, that is not always the case. Durabooks seems to be a step in the right direction, but it won’t be terribly useful until it really takes off.

  4. Read this while keeping in mind that I’m fairly libertarian in my politics, and not by habit an environmental crusader. One doesn’t have to be an environmental crusader, however, to recognize a good idea.

    What’s being proposed is a new model for the manufacture of pretty much all consumer goods. Durabooks are ONE illustration of the model. There needs to be a larger movement, yes- and librarians should be at the forefront of that movement, expert as they are in evaluating both information and information containers.

    Right now, a great number of Americans recycle their paper goods from the curb every week. It is so convenient that even a lazybones like myself does it. What would be so hard about doing the same thing for books, especially when Durabooks can be recycled like yogurt containers?

    I agree that the idea isn’t useful until it really takes off- but thats not a reason to dismiss the idea- that’s a reason to PROMOTE the idea until it takes off!

    Paper from trees makes little sense. Paper recycling accomplishes too little with too many toxic side-effects. We should be embracing a new, sustainable model if we wish to preserve the pleasure of reading a hard-copy book.

    Read Cradle to Cradle. Fasccinating stuff.