How green is your paperback?

Aug 14, 2013, 03:20 IST | Kanika Sharma

With e-book sales on the rise, Kanika Sharma investigates the whys and wherefores of producing physical books that come from Eco-friendly means and generate an environment which foretells a bright future

They say in about a 100 years, coastal cities such as Mumbai and Chennai will be submerged owing to the lopsided environmental equation of the times. It might feel reasonable to cocoon yourself against such doomsday predictions with hot chocolate and a book but we urge you to read between the pages. Doing exactly this, we flipped through the kaleidoscopic Rick Stein’s India: In Search of the Latest Curry by well-known chef Rick Stein.

In the publishing jargon amidst the edition details, we chanced upon the trademark of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, which we discovered, is a US-based non-profit organisation that standardises forest management all over the world through certification and labelling. Thinking this, we began to ponder on the situation in India. This April, as per a Government of India report, 14 states including Maharashtra have suffered from decline in forest cover by a margin of 367 sq km.

Priya Singh, Production Head, Hachette India

Too dear for the environment
A production spokesperson at Rupa Publications, including its imprints, conveys, “There are no clear guidelines in India, but abroad they have parameters that help in preservation of the environment.” As of now, it is only the inks that the Indian publishing houses seem to mind. Citing the reason behind this, he says, “It is only the raw material which comes with Eco-friendly certification and thus, is expensive. The processes to print and bind the remain same with both kinds of material. The overall cost is therefore high, if we go with Eco-friendly material.”

Radhika Menon, Senior Editor, Tulika Books

Although the earliest of the Indian Forest Acts dates back to 1927, almost a century later, management of forests vis-à-vis paper -- one of the most direct usages -- is amiss. With alternatives such as natural fibre; elephant dung mixed with flower seeds and mineral powder and resin (called stone paper) doing the rounds; one feels dejected at lack of attention that could create a suitable economy for this which would thereby, bring down expenditure.

Lack of options
Radhika Menon, of Tulika Books echoes the uneconomical restriction behind it. “We have huge print runs in nine languages that can definitely not be afforded if printed on wood tree paper. Also, it costs 40% more than the usual cost of mill paper and has an erratic supply making it unfavourable. Being an independent publishing house, we need to be cost-effective as we mostly face bulk orders from the government, NGOs and libraries. For instance, the UP government once placed an order of six lakh copies which is unaffordable as an Eco-friendly option.” As a suggestion, Menon voices that such practices need to be subsidised by the government in order to become a common practice. Also, wood tree paper alternative doesn’t laminate.

Turning over a leaf
Tara Books, Hachette India and Penguin Books tell other sides of the story where the former has found its own niche method of printing while both of the latter, by the virtue of being international franchises, are able to tow the line. “From the very first day,” articulates Priya Singh, production director at Hachette India. While the stress on ISO 14001 is a necessary criterion for their suppliers, Singh explains the ISO mark guarantees, “that we have processes to meet the international norms of environment management systems”. Every Hachette book, then, is printed on environment-friendly paper.

Subhasis Ganguly, Penguin’s head of production, relates that the paper they use is either Publishers Responsible Environmental Paper Sourcing, FSC certified or made from unconventional raw material like buggas (sugarcane straw) procured from a sustainable resource. As a macroscopic perspective, Singh suggests, “Indian publishers are not in a position to switch over to paper completely with FSC certification because it is prohibitively expensive for Indian conditions and would drive price points upwards -- something the market cannot yet take. India is a very low priced market. It is for select few — that FSC certified paper is actually used, where the end price is high. For instance, JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy was a relatively high priced hardback (though it was still cheaper than the UK) and could absorb the use of FSC paper. Similarly Lavanya Sankaran’s Hope Factory was the other hardback that had FSC paper.”

Cost and effect
While the story gets further complicated with the absence of an indigenous body that could stamp a permissible quality of eco-friendly paper, the debate becomes convoluted. Chennai-based publishing house, Tara Books, has been foraging its own eco-friendly means for the last 12 years. Editorial Director V Geetha and Production Director C Arumugam, offer, “We are a labour-intensive press to start with: our handmade print workshop employs over 18 men. We work mostly with handmade paper, procured from paper mills in Tamil Nadu, and this is paper made from grain, vegetable and fruit waste.

We try and use non-toxic ink though this is not always easy. We adhere to EU and American standards, regarding quality of ink, and levels of chemical saturation.” Both divulge that in case of a deviation from their silk screen process, which is about 50% to 70%, they try to source recycled paper as far as possible, for example in Tara’s graphic novels Sita’s Ramayana and I See the Promised Land.

With cost weighing on everyone’s mind, Tara Books share that the production cost for a handmade book (made by them) is 50% to 80% more costly than an offset printed book. With dark clouds looming over, we reckon, physical forms of books garner enough support and attention by all means as nothing beats the smell of a book.

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