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.
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.
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.