Orang-utans 'Go Ape' at Hereford garden center in England on March 23, 2005, as Greenpeace protestors demand a boycott of Indonesian rainforest wood. From Greenpeace.
Get this: According to The New York Review of Books
, China today "produces two thirds of the world's photocopiers, shoes, toys, and microwave ovens, half of its DVD players, digital cameras, cement, and textiles, 40 percent of its socks, one third of its DVD-ROM drives and desktop computers, a fourth of its mobile telephones, TV sets, steel, car stereos, and so on. It exports 30 percent of the world's electronic goods." And it looks like those percentages are only going to grow.
As a publisher, I'm constantly being sent pitches for work to be outsourced to India (typesetting, editing, etc.) or China (printing). So far I've resisted, not only because I'm not wholly sold on the idea that taking North American jobs (we print our books in Canada and the U.S.) and sending them overseas is the right thing to do, but because, when it comes to printing, I'm simply skeptical about any claims that the paper used in China comes from sustainably harvested sources.
Not only is recycled paper with a high post-consumer waste content a luxury and a rarity in Chinese printing companies, but I am concerned that the virgin fiber stocked at East Asian printers not only comes from the Indonesian rainforest, but that it is made from rare and precious hardwood trees.
At a recent meeting of the Association of American Publishers' Paper Issue Working Group, a bunch of us heard from a representative of the Forest Stewardship Council
who told us that 88 percent of the logging done in Indonesia is illegal. I remember a BBC report a year or so back that charted the cutting of wood in the Indonesian rainforests through its shipment via Malaysian ports (where it was labeled "sustainably harvested") and then on to China and Taiwan, to be made into benches, boardwood, and pulp.
This was not encouraging, to say the least.
Ironically, a lot of recycled paper gathered in the U.S. is currently being shipped to China where it is turned into low grade items like tissue paper and cardboard boxes. Those boxes are then filled with socks and TVs and other such stuff and shipped back to the U.S. This trade is keeping a lot of paper recycling companies in the U.S. in business, and my hope rests partly in that high quality recycled paper will makes its way to East Asia and be turned into recycled paper pulp. Then I might feel a bit more comfortable about printing in China.
All of this might be moot, however. Once China starts bringing its own recycling centers and pulp mills on stream, the U.S.-China trade in recycled paper will turn into yet another thing that China sends to the U.S. rather than the other way round. By that time, there may be no more Indonesian rainforest left.
Lantern supports the work of Rainforest Relief
, which is working to make municipalities know that their benches, boardwalks, and rail tilings are made from rainforest wood from Borneo to Brazil, and the work of the Green Press Initiative
, which is trying to get U.S. and Canadian publishers to green their companies and use only sustainably harvested or recycled paper.
It's an uphill battle because many publishers, big and small, print their books in China, because it's cheaper to print books, especially ones with glossy paper and lots of color illustrations, there and have them take six weeks to ship to the U.S. than print them in the U.S. or Canada and wait a week or so. Lantern has only printed in North America, and until I can be confident of the sources of the timber then Lantern is not going to print in China, and will work to keep promoting recycled content from reliable sources.