Week of 9/04/2005

Dear EarthTalk: Are any book or magazine publishers using recycled paper these days?

—Debby Greco, Canton, CT

Environmental groups have been advocating for changes in the paper choices of the publishing industry for years. For one, Greenpeace’s Book Campaign has been working to convince publishers to switch from non-recycled "virgin" paper to more green-friendly recycled varieties. The virgin paper used in most books has been linked to the ruin of ancient forests in Canada, Finland, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

Markets Initiative, a group of Canadian environmental organizations working with Greenpeace, has convinced 67 Canadian publishers to make formal commitments to phase out virgin paper in their books. The coalition even provides an extensive list of eco-friendly current titles on its website.

Greenpeace and its cohorts have had less success with American publishers, though, going so far as to recommend that U.S. buyers of the latest Harry Potter book make their purchases online from Canadian purveyors offering Raincoast Books" version on 100 percent recycled paper.

It is much the same story on the magazine side, where a few dozen publishers have embraced the use of recycled paper, while the big players continue to utilize virgin fibers, mainly due to cost considerations, in putting out their glossy productions.

The Magazine PAPER Project (MPP), which is trying to get big publishers to take the lead in choosing recycled as well as chlorine-free options, lists more than 60 magazines that have made a commitment to using ecologically responsible papers, such as those that contain "post-consumer" recycled content or that are produced using non-toxic manufacturing processes. The list includes a wide range of publications, from Ms. Magazine to Discover to Shape, and just about every environmental and non-profit publication in-between. MPP, which is part of the non-profit Co-op America’s WoodWise program, walks publishers through their papers" impacts and assists them in adopting environmentally preferable alternatives.

Perhaps an indication of things to come, the 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart—which describes how ideas of "ecologically intelligent design" can be applied to everyday things in order to reduce environmental damage—is printed on a synthetic "paper" made from plastic resins. The book’s pages look and feel like paper, are waterproof—and can be recycled in communities that have the means to collect polypropylene, a material similar to that which is used in yogurt containers. The paper is significantly more costly to produce than paper (for now), but this "tree-free" book, says the book’s website, "points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled and used again without losing material quality

CONTACTS: Magazine PAPER Project, www.coopamerica.org/programs/woodwise/paperproject;Greenpeace Book Campaign, www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/forests/greenpeace-book-campaign; Markets Initiative, www.oldgrowthfree.com.

Dear EarthTalk: Are there ways to recycle old athletic shoes?

—Carmen Wolf, Los Angeles, CA

Probably the best way to make your worn out sneakers go the extra mile is to recycle them through Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program, which since 1993 has converted more than 15 million old athletic shoes (any brand, not just its own) into components in more than 170 community sport surfaces across the United States as well as in the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.

Nike separates the incoming old shoes into their component parts, and then grinds the various materials up at its Reuse-A-Shoe recycling facility in Wilsonville, Oregon. The resulting material, collectively know as "Nike Grind," is separated into three categories: outsole rubber, midsole foam and upper fabric. Rubber from the outsole is used in the making of synthetic soccer, football and baseball fields; foam from the midsole is used for synthetic basketball courts, tennis courts and playground surfaces; and fabric from the shoes" upper becomes padding used under hardwood basketball floors. Nike supplies such major indoor and outdoor athletic surface companies such as Atlas Track (running surfaces), Rebound Ace (tennis and basketball courts), Connor Sports Flooring (gym floors) and Field Turf (synthetic outdoor grass).

According to Nike, it takes approximately 75,000 pairs of shoes to make one outdoor playing field. The company’s goal is to recycle two million pairs of shoes each year.

Reuse-a-Shoe accepts all athletic shoes as long as they do not contain any metal (zippers, eyelets, spikes, etc.). The Nike website offers a list of collection locations—which includes recycling centers at municipalities from coast to coast—as well as an address to which old shoes can be shipped. Shoes submitted to the free program must be clean (mud-free) and tied together or paired accordingly. The company also hopes to eventually recycle old shoes into new ones.

For people with wearable athletic shoes they’d like to be rid of, there’s also the option of donating sneakers to local charities and thrift stores. The Children’s Rights Foundation (CRF), for one, sponsors an annual used athletic shoe drive through different retail shoe shops nationally. Retailers promote the shoe drive through normal means of advertising. Customers are directed to bring their used wearable shoes to participating stores in exchange for a discount on new shoes as decided by individual retailers. CRF then donates the used sneakers to needy and at-risk children and their families within the U.S. and abroad.

Some local recycling services will also take your old wearable sneakers and shoes and direct them to those in need. One such service is Eco-Cycle, a non-profit recycler based in Boulder, Colorado. The organization’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials program will take your old pairs of shoes—as well as accessories and other clothing—and send them to relief agencies in developing countries.

CONTACTS: Nike Reuse-a-Shoe, www.nikereuseashoe.com; Children’s Rights Foundation, www.crfi.org; Eco-Cycle, www.ecocycle.org.