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Sunday, May 18, 2014


Time for a Severance Tax on Newsprint

It’s time for the Government to impose a severance tax on newsprint. The newspaper industry is a dinosaur in its current form. It also consumes vast quantities of natural resources. Over three million metric tons of newsprint is produced each year in the US alone and all of it ends up in the trash. The production of newspapers creates almost unimaginable forest fragmentation and uses mega-tons of dangerous chemicals for which there is a ready alternative; publishing digitally.

There’s absolutely no need to continue the use of newsprint in this day and age; newsprint that’s filling up our landfills. The quicker we shift to environmentally clean web publication, the better off we will be. Moreover, by imposing a severance tax now, we will not only hasten getting off our newsprint addiction, but also be able to help fund our public schools. It’s time.

When the typical big city Sunday paper comes out in print each week, it probably represents the clear-cutting of some 30-40 acres of land somewhere. The daily version amounts to maybe 8-10 acres per day. That’s 80 acres per week or so. Multiply that by every big city and town in the country and we have a forest being clear cut to line the pockets of greedy newspaper barons. The printed-on-paper press is as outdated today as the horse drawn carriage. But unlike horse manure, the newspaper industry continues to pollute the environment. And while the so-called “reporters” accuse people who drive their cars for destroying the planet, you’ll hear nary a word from them for the environmental destruction they are creating. To repeat: we’re wiping out entire forests of trees every single week just to sustain a printed form of communication so easily replaced.

The fact it doesn't occur in next to the press room is irrelevant given our global economy and environment. What happens in South Carolina, New Hampshire or Canada matters. We have a responsibility to act, which means forcing the conversion to digital wherever we can. The only way to change behavior is the impose a severance tax on the newsprint, which will have the additional benefit of dealing with a waste stream that’s filling up our landfills. Newspapers account for roughly 14% of landfill wastes according to some sources and much more according to others.

Forest destruction and landfill wastes aren't the only issues with newsprint. There are also the inks, which are often composed of non-biodegradable organic and inorganic compounds. Black ink’s most common pigment used is carbon black. It’s the stuff that comes off on your fingers when you handle the paper. Here’s something that Big Press doesn't want you to know: carbon black is classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and some versions are proprietary in nature–that is to say the detailed elements are not disclosed. That Sunday newspaper in one big city uses roughly five tons of the stuff every week. Every bit of it avoidable by a switch to digital production. Notice that many newspapers now use color to attract their customers to stories and advertising? Those color inks contain heavy metals which are toxic. Newspapers have begun moving away from petroleum based solvents so they can claim to be better for the environment, but they conveniently leave out the part about the metals in the pigments.  The newspaper industry is diverting vegetable oils to be used in ink, raising the cost of food for the world’s poor. And we can’t emphasize enough that all of the production that comes out of the news industry’s printing presses goes virtually immediately to the trash, mostly unread.

A severance tax on newsprint would, not only avoid all this, but also help fund our schools. A 10% tax on the price of newsprint would generate roughly hundreds of millions annually that could support our schools. If we applied the 10% tax to the newsstand price of newspapers we’d generate hundreds of millions more that our schools could really use. Add to this the value of extending the life of our landfills and hurrying up the transition to digital publication, which will reduce the other impacts on our environment, and we are forced to ask why we haven’t done this sooner.

What’s stopping us? End the destruction of the planet by the newspaper oligopoly.

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