Published Wednesday 13th November 2019

As with many industries, print in recent years has found itself part of the wider public drive towards more environmentally-friendly practices. Often unfairly compared to digital, print providers have found themselves having to prove their sustainability credentials against an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base.

In August, it was reported that an increasing number of media publishers were replacing their polywrap covers with paper alternatives. One such example was Country Life, who replaced the plastic film on their subscriber copies with a printed wrap. In this increasingly eco-conscious time, the print industry could still have a considerable role not just as a competitor to digital, but as an sustainable alternative to plastics.

The Print Industry’s Changing Landscape

TI Media’s Country Life is one of the largest and most notable transitions from plastic wrap to paper wrap, especially in the media industry. However, many magazines have made similar moves, including RHS’s The Garden and Kelsey Media’s Coast. There is a clear trend to be found between these examples – subscriber magazines all aimed at people with a keen interest in the environment. However, this transition toward paper is a much broader movement. Hearst, publishers of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health and many more, have pledged to move to paper wrap for their subscriber copies by January 2020.

It’s not just print media – there are also transitions being noted in other sectors, particularly the food industry. Over the next three-to-four years, the global food wrapping paper market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4%. The growing demand for sustainable and reusable packaging, alongside bans on single-use plastics in the future, are forcing companies to transition to new materials. Companies competing for this growing market have tabled many alternative packaging solutions. However, at this early stage, many are either too expensive to produce or too complicated to recycle, given the UK’s current recycling infrastructure.

At this early point in our switch from plastics, paper, in many circumstances, represents the only viable large-scale alternative. Many printing companies are investing in converting their polywrapping lines into paper wrappers to reach this growing market.

The Long-Term Sustainability Puzzle

While paper wrap presents a wonderful opportunity for both print businesses and consumers, it may not be the golden apple for which people are searching. Beyond its technical limitations, there are concerns that increased use of paper will raise the cost of raw materials, presenting the same issues to print that have beset many of their competitors. The environment remains the print industry’s biggest challenge, and there are still questions for it to answer.

Much of the print industry’s energy is spent on trying to correct misunderstandings about its impact on the environment. Again, this comes back to print often being compared to digital, where the environmental effects are much harder to notice. Two Sides is an initiative by members of the print supply chain designed to combat some of the myths commonly held about print, ensuring that the industry has a role to play in sustainable communications now and in the future.

An example of this was seen at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As part of their environmental pledge, they have committed to the long-term reduction of printed materials for their event. However, they themselves acknowledge the importance for festival-goers of a handheld, non-electronic guide. Furthermore, Two Sides argue that turning from print to digital is merely shifting the emissions to a different location.

As this debate continues, consumers will become more aware of the environmental benefits of using paper compared to both plastic and electronic alternatives. The print sector could experience a significant change in the future, as the industry continues to reposition itself as a sustainable option.

A Sustainable Print Solution for Your Business

Companies across the UK are more determined than ever to reduce their carbon emissions. However, in many cases, this can be a costly endeavour. Here at Expense Reduction Analysts, we’ve been working with major businesses across the UK, helping them streamline their supply chains and reach their environmental goals. Our corporate cost savings team works in a range of areas, including print, to refine your procurement strategies long-term. If you’re interested in discovering what savings we could make for you, why not get in contact with our team today?