How German Publishers Can Save the Next Century

This presentation was originally given on January 14th, 2021 at the future!publish 2021 in Berlin. It’s about sustainability with traditional paper, the facts about stone paper, and how German publishers have the capacity to grow the stone paper supply to scale. As the title suggests, the supply growth and the resulting price drop would be enough to save the next century of the paper industry.

Key Points

Traditional Paper Sustainability

  • Production of traditional paper products contributes to 10% of global deforestation, which in turn contributes to 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Pulp and paper industry is the 4th largest consumer of energy in the world.
  • 10L of fresh water are required for an average sheet of office paper.
  • The water consumed annually by the European graphic paper market is enough to supply 14.8 million Europeans with water each year.
  • 1/3 of EU countries face the growing threat of water scarcity.
  • Complete stop of deforestation would result in a 75% reduction of global carbon emissions over the next 50 years.
  • In Indonesia, 100,000 people died prematurely due to air pollution emitted from the burning of local peatlands as preparation for tree plantations. Peatlands make up 4% of the planet’s surface, but absorb twice as much CO2 as the world’s forests. The paper industry in Asia, and indirectly the world, is not sustainable.
  • 40% of CO2 emissions from paper production come from burning biomass for fuel.
  • Trees are not renewable, nor endless. Trees come from a number of nonrenewable materials that make them a clumsy way of exploiting the planet’s resources for paper.

Stone Paper Sustainability

  • One ton of stone paper saves 20 trees, 28,000 liters of water, 280 kWh of energy, and 900 kg of CO2 emissions.
  • Two main variants, RPD (paper) and RBD (board) made of calcium carbonate and HDPE. The paper variant is most important for publishing applications.
  • Stone paper has a number of features that make it superior to traditional paper.
  • Calcium carbonate, the main component of stone paper, is already a common additive in the paper making process. It makes up a significant portion of the Earth’s crust and rough calculations show that there is approximately 16 million times more calcium carbonate than lumber from trees. It is 80% cheaper per ton than traditional tree pulp.
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE), the binding agent of stone paper, is 40% more recyclable than paper, produces no toxic emissions during incineration, and is significantly more efficient in production than paper. Annual HDPE production currently outweighs traditional paper by tens of millions of tons, but it only consumes ~0.5% of the world’s oil production. Replacing all traditional paper with stone paper as it exists with HDPE would require only a further 0.5% of the world’s oil production. The current manufacturing process, even without better recycling, promises to sustain the world for centuries.
  • Stone paper means exploiting highly efficient and abundant materials for paper AND packaging production.
  • Plastic consumption could be reduced by more than half in the plastic packaging industry, while simplifying the recycling stream.
  • Stone paper is recyclable and leaves behind calcium carbonate after incineration, still useful for a wide number of applications.
  • Three role model companies in stone paper marketing are Cuento de Luz, Karst Stone Paper, and a good company.

Planning for a Shift in the Paper Industry

  • The Pebble Printing Group specializes in stone paper printing, product development, supply chain management, research, and emphasizes the long term goal of market leadership. This is because stone paper has the potential to revolutionize the paper industry, and a fair cultural exchange is necessary for the fair international development of stone paper.
  • Stone paper is currently competitive with FSC Mix offset paper. If the annual market supply were to increase by 50,000 tons (approximately 40 million soft cover books, 50% more than is produced now) stone paper would be available at approximately 30% cheaper than traditional virgin-fiber paper. As economies of scale develop, stone paper’s price will fall far below traditional paper, with production costs lower than cardboard.
  • Pebble Printing Group is setting a mission to produce 25,000 tons (20 million soft cover books) of stone paper annually in the next 4 years. This would mean that stone paper would become approximately equal with traditional virgin-fiber paper. At this point, we would lead a number of research and improvement projects that make us the market leader in stone paper production and printing. The goal for year one is to raise our stone paper requirements to 500 tons (approximately 500,000 soft cover books).

Commentary

This presentation is really just an introduction to a much larger world of sustainability. Through focusing on the production of books, specifically in the German market, we can more easily expand the supply of stone paper, and make it more available to the global market.

Why Germany?

There are several reasons why Germany is the best place to develop stone paper from where we sit. Firstly, Germany leads the European publishing market alongside the United Kingdom. In 2019, roughly 70,000 new titles were published in the country. Assuming an average run of 5,000 books for each title (a conservative average), only 5% of the books would need to be printed on stone paper to our proposed 5 year goal. It’s also reasonable to project that one or two large publishers in Germany, whose average runs significantly exceed 5,000 copies per title, could meet this goal themselves.

Germany is also a leader in innovation for Europe and the world. If a new technology can be proven in Germany, it is likely ready for the world. Growing stone paper and consequently being tested German institutions will be critical to perfecting the material and its disposal. The birthplace of Heidelberg, Germany is also one of the most important countries in the world for printing innovation, which will be key to the further development of stone paper products.

Finally, for a printing company based in China, Germany is a relatively low competition area due to the language and cultural barriers to other Chinese companies. There is more freedom for a Chinese company to connect with the German industry on their native terms than there would be in the United Kingdom, where English is the standard language and large Chinese players are well-known. Communication in German, cooperation with German partners, and grass roots community building is a high priority for the Pebble Printing Group.

Why books?

Simply stated, books are the most stable solution for stone paper as it exists. Traditional methods for printing and binding work relatively well with stone paper, unlike packaging, where paper board is common. Stone paper board is very sensitive to adhesives, printing, and folding, while also being photo degradable- this is not necessarily a good thing for packages. Not only this, but packages also do not use as much raw material as books. This means they are not well suited to accelerating the expansion of the stone paper supply. There are a number of steps for the development of stone paper packages which will most likely stabilize after the price of stone paper has dropped.

What about recycling?

This is the most common question from German companies. Stone paper is not recycled as traditional paper, because it is not fiber-based and bound with HDPE plastic. This means it must be thrown into the “yellow sack” or “yellow bins” as they are known the in German recycling system. The concept of throwing a paper product into these containers is radical, and accordingly met with skepticism by German companies. In fact, there have been outspoken efforts to reduce plastic consumption in Germany, including the elimination of plastic wrap on individually wrapped books.

The truth is stone paper will inevitably force us to rethink recycling and our consumption of materials. The current German system of separating recycling will change as stone paper rapidly replaces traditional paper as the champion of sustainability. The yellow sack or yellow bin will necessarily change as a result of this. Traditional paper recycling, supported by strong initiatives and marketing in Europe, is not an effective solution at reducing our consumption of precious raw materials for the planet. Not even the strictest German certification for recycled paper products, the Blue Angel, can solve the problem of using trees and water (and a number of additives) to create paper. “Altpapier,” as the container for old paper is known in Germany, will fade away as we come to terms with the devastating impact we have on our planet through unnecessary forestry and water consumption.

The recognition of stone paper as superior to traditional paper in the German world will be the greatest challenge for the development of stone paper. We are considering a number of options to support this transition, including a dedicated certification that will make the recycling method obvious and clearly explain why this new material is the best option for the planet. We are dedicated to supporting our partners in proving the tree-free, waterless, and low carbon emission production of stone paper.

There is a final point, but it should not distract from the core issue of sustainability with stone paper. Books in general are not considered disposable products. Hardcover books are also usually not recyclable due to the different materials used to make them, like glue and cardboard. This doesn’t matter if it’s stone paper or regular paper. Softcover books are the best candidates for recycling, and a strong focus of Pebble’s marketing efforts. As it stands now, only 30% of graphic papers in Europe come from recycled material. The sudden concerns about recycling likely come from the necessity of changing readers’ behavior- until now, the recyclability of books in the publishing industry has not been particularly positive.

How will you realize these goals?

Right now, the Pebble Printing Group is a very small company with a lot of ambition. For our first goal, we anticipate 25-50 softcover titles which need to be printed on stone paper to meet the initial goal of 500 tons of paper outlined for the second year. This initial step would grant us the independence and scale to focus on the pursuit of stone paper. This includes a Chinese company registration, shipping license, and account manager salaries. After this step, turbulence in the original plan is expected. It is unclear how much information we could gather from Chinese producers of stone paper, as they are likely to prefer keeping their secrets. Like the development in the first year, the vision of improving stone paper would stand at the end of winding path, along which we would continuously consider all variables. Opening a stone paper production in the EU would also assume that we meet our goals as described in the presentation, which would also mean that the Pebble Printing Group would look very different to how it exists today. Nonetheless, these goals are a long-term guide to keep us chasing excellence and fulfilling the overarching mission of reducing the impact of the traditional paper industry.

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