Why Print Is Greener Than Digital

I live within walking distance of Historic Rittenhouse Town in Philadelphia.  William Rittenhouse built America’s first paper mill at the confluence of the Wissahickon and Monoshone creeks in Germantown in 1690.  The mill expanded and continued as a viable commercial operation until 1840.  What is striking about the history of papermaking at the site is quite surprising – no trees were used for pulp.  Due to the burgeoning growth of linen mills in Germantown there was an excess of rags that the Rittenhouse family converted to pulp for the paper mill.

Paper manufacturers have been recycling rags, paper waste and pulp for centuries. Modern pulp and paper making operations are responsible for planting 3 trees for every tree harvested.  There are now more trees in North American than there were 100 years ago. Most paper mills are energy self-sufficient by the clean burning of biomass waste from their operations.  Wastewater from all North American mills is cooled and cleaned before entering local waterways.  The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) advocate for responsibly grown and harvested trees for pulp manufacturing and papermaking and manage the chain of custody.  There are 164,000,000 certified forest acres in North American and 5,225 certified businesses. Certified foresters, mills, printers, distributors, warehouses and truckers assure that the custody chain is unbroken from the forest to the finished printed project.  

35% of the paper used by commercial printers in the U.S. has recycled content. Certified printers typically use FSC paper for 70% of their products. 65% of all post consumer waste paper is recycled in the U.S.

Save a tree and use your computer, phone or hand-held device instead?  

Servers, server farms, monitors, CPU’s, laptops and mainframe computers use energy from local sources.  Most of the electrical energy in the U.S. is generated by burning coal, the largest source of CO2 emissions in the country.  There is no recycling stream for used computers and peripherals.  Thousands of tons of discarded computers, monitors, and servers are shipped to China, Pakistan, India and Central Africa each year where they are dismantled in highly un-safe and questionable methods including:   

  • Bashing open cathode ray tubes with hammers, exposing the toxic phosphor dust inside.
  • Cooking circuit boards in pots over open fires to melt the lead solder, breathing in toxic lead fumes.
  • Burning wires in open piles to melt away the plastics (to get at the copper inside).
  • Burning the plastic casings, creating dioxins and furans – some of the most poisonous fumes you can breathe.
  • Throwing the unwanted (but very hazardous) leaded glass into former irrigation ditches
  • Dumping pure acids and dissolved heavy metals directly into their rivers.


Print is archival, tactile, portable and beautiful and printed products don’t break when dropped on a tiled floor.  And, by the way, print is green.