Perspective and questioning the paper we’re printed on

Between 70 and 100 percent of trees used to make newsprint, which is what newspaper is printed on, are cut from virgin forests.

Most of us do not wonder or concern ourselves with where the newsprint comes from to make our newspapers. Understandably, it’s not something we think about as we accept and love newspapers as part of our culture.

All of this changed for me about five years ago. After reading numerous Star Tribune editorials about saving forests and stopping global warming – I thought it odd that a major newspaper that needs a lot of fresh forest every day to make their paper would write an editorial about saving forests.

Newsprint, which is what newspapers are made of, runs between 70 percent and 100 percent virgin forests. Though more than 60 percent of newsprint is recycled, not much of it again becomes newsprint. Virgin newsprint is much cheaper. A lot of recycled newsprint in the United States goes to China, recycled newsprint is one of the largest exported products in America. Even though we are recycling more, overall we are using more, much more. Americans average more than 300 pounds of paper used per person per year – compare that with Angola where a person averages 7 pounds per year.

Nothing in North America eats more forests than newspapers. The daily and Sunday volume is staggering. There are 1,580 daily newspapers in the U.S. with a circulation total of 61 million. There are 875 Sunday newspapers with a total circulation of 62 million. This huge destructive process happens every day, 365 days a year. These numbers do not include weekly publications like City Pages or college newspapers like The Minnesota Daily.

How many trees, how many old-growth forests are lost every day for newspapers? Most of the newsprint used for Midwestern newspapers – Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Chicago, Milwaukee and The Minnesota Daily comes from northern Ontario. Newsprint is Ontario’s principal wood product and Ontario contributes 40 percent of the gross national product of Canada. One Sunday edition of the Star Tribune weighs on average 3.5 pounds. The Star Tribune Sunday circulation is 700,000 papers, 70 percent of this is virgin old-growth Canadian forest. The Star Tribune gets all of its newsprint from Kenosa, Ontario, which is home to Abitibi-Consolidated. The Bowater Company plant in Thunder Bay, Ontario, is the largest newsprint plant in Canada and supplies the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Chicago Tribune, Duluth News Tribune and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with newsprint. Canada is the number one newsprint producer in the world – 8.8 million tons of newsprint are made in Canada each year and 8 million tons of this amount comes to the United States.

The Minnesota Daily is printed by ECM Publishers in Princeton, Minn. I’ll give the plant manager credit; he didn’t hang up during an interview. He would not tell me the exact town or plant where ECM got its newsprint, but he said 90 percent of their newsprint comes from Canada and the recycled content varied between zero percent and 30 percent.

Ninety percent of all logging in Canada is clear-cutting. It seems only fair that if we are going to have all these large newspapers in Minnesota, that we use Minnesota trees.

Imagine the outrage here in the Twin Cities if forests in northern Minnesota were being clear-cut every day for newspaper production. Metropolitans with cabins up north would be outraged. What makes one tree more important than another? The city of Minneapolis prides itself on its parks and lakes. What if all trees were clear-cut in the local parks and lakes, or even worse, the golf courses? People would go insane with anger. So what makes our local trees more important than trees in Canada? What makes our urban trees untouchable? Why can’t our local trees be turned into something as wasteful and pointless as a sports page or a full page Marshall Fields ad? Why are Canadian trees expendable?

The Star Tribune fights to save Minnesota forests and sees them as valuable assets – yet right across the border in Canada there are members of Grassy Narrows First Nation who have been blockading the roads into their reserve for many years and trying to keep Abitibi, the Star Tribune newsprint supplier, off its land because they clear-cut forests.

There are people all over northern Ontario fighting to save the boreal forest. There are four incredibly courageous women who live in the bush in northwestern Ontario. They struggle with poverty, but they continue to fight an uphill battle. They are fighting our demand for paper and our wasteful way of life. The paper you are reading right now comes from northern Ontario. Every tree has a story and some are sad. More than one resident of northern Ontario has told me that “they cut 365 days a year, they cut day and night.” They push farther north to get at the good old-growth fiber. Imagine these monstrous Caterpillar tractors with huge spotlights coming into an area where you live and taking all of the trees. It is nighttime, imagine the noise, the crushing of tree limbs, the huge loud vibrating engines shaking the earth. Imagine the next morning seeing the barren treeless landscape. What sickness.

An education is wonderful, but what good is an education or a future for that matter when we have ravaged and destroyed our planet. We are destroying Earth and it is happening now.

Frank Erickson writes for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. Please send comments to [email protected]