Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review: Paper Trails

Review: Paper Trails
by Mandy Haggith

Mary Wakefield discovers the true cost of paper
It's unusual to come across a book that manages to be both very boring and very interesting at the same time. It happens sometimes with people - old relatives, for instance, and their meticulous recollections of doodlebugs and powdered egg - but only rarely with books.

So Paper Trails, one woman's mission to uncover the evils of the global paper industry, contains an extra unintentional conundrum: is it fascinating or dead.

Is it amazing that an average Brit uses over 440lbs of paper a year? That the world consumes just under a million tons a day, which if it were laid out in A4 sheets would wrap around the equator 1,500 times? That a third of all forms become out of date before they're distributed? Or is it tedious? I'm in two minds.

Perhaps this curious boring/exciting thing is a quality inherent in paper itself. After all, paper can be some of the dullest stuff on earth: the crumpled trouble-makers found inside jammed copiers, graph paper, cash-machine receipts, junk mail.

Or it can be terrifically exciting. Nothing since has ever compared to the teen allure of hunky-dory paper: thick, ridged, purple, yellow, red, ready for writing on in silver pen. Then there's greaseproof paper, that harbinger of deliciousness, and clever little Rizlas, and brown paper packages tied up with string.

And oddly, Mandy Haggith, the author, is herself subject to the same boring/interesting schizophrenia.

She says in chapter one that she once made a big pile of all the paper a person uses in a year, and exhibited it in her local town hall so that her pals could repent of their wasteful ways. How dull is that?

"It made my neighbours gasp," says Mandy. I suspect they were yawning. Then she confesses to a "weakness" for hand-made paper. Hand-made paper is loathsome. No one writes jokes on hand-made paper and sometimes there are flowers pressed into its fibres. Why not spiders? Much better. More appealing to kids.

On the upside, Haggith's journey has the comic nobility of a heartfelt crusade.

Paper Trails documents her paper-chase round the world, following her subject from birth to death: from logging (often illegal) through to pulping, paper-making, paper-wasting, paper-recycling; tree-huggers chasing tree muggers.

And it's not all stats and lectures; there are touching passages whenever Mandy meets up with a handsome barefoot environmentalists and her prose blossoms: "The broadleaf trees were in full autumn colours, vine leaves shouting red up aspen trunks crowned with fluttering gold coinage."

The paper industry also turns out to be full of fabulous baddies, straight from the pages of a Carl Hiaasen novel.

In Indonesia, Mandy meets nasty loggers, all smokers and scowlers who employ bouncers trained by US marines to warn our girl detective off. They flout regulations, make off with irreplaceable trees, and plant in their stead the alien acacia which sucks the water from the land and poisons the soil.

In Russia Mandy tackles the aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska, who owns a paper mill on the edge of beautiful lake Baikal. Baikal contains 20 per cent of the world's liquid drinking water (see, that's interesting, isn't it?) but the plant has been accused of polluting it, which is very aggravating for the Nerpa, the world's only earless, fresh-water seals.

Still, on the plus side, Haggith has a very satisfying pop at Vanity Fair. "Their Green Issue was full of puff-pieces on the environmental credentials of American celebrities, yet not even printed on recycled paper".

The paper industry is accused of buying up ancient trees, home to monkeys and moths, and turning them into pulp on pub toilet floors. Isn't the 21st century great?

But then just when you're ready to join Mandy's gang and to ignore all the brain-numbing passages of eco-bore, she'll introduce you to one of her friends: "In an era of increasing competition and growing concern about corporate responsibility," says Ginger Cassidy from ForestEthics, "companies must demonstrate their values and protect their brand by implementing better environmental policies."

Now that's a real waste of paper.
Norske Skog sees newsprint price hikes
By Camilla Knudsen and John Acher

OSLO/HELSINKI (Reuters) - Norwegian papermaker Norske Skog (NSG.OL: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) sees European newsprint prices increasing in 2009 by more than rising costs, giving some margin improvement, the company's chief executive said on Wednesday.

The paper industry has struggled to climb out of a six-year slump, dogged by overcapacity, soft demand and prices and rising costs of raw material and energy which have kept earnings poor. European producers have also suffered from a weak dollar that has put them at a disadvantage to North American rivals.

Newsprint, the paper newspapers are printed on, has been one of the hardest hit segments, partly because of the shift over the last decade to electronic publishing from print media.

Norske Skog sees a tighter balance in the European newsprint market due partly to capacity closures, but also aided by price increases in North America and steep price rises in Asia, Chief Executive Christian Rynning-Toennesen said.

"We believe in price increases in European newsprint next year," Rynning-Toennesen told the Reuters Paper Summit, calling it "highly likely." Newsprint prices are set in annual negotiations with customers, talks that will begin this autumn.

He declined to say by how much he expected prices to rise but said: "There's an unusually strong combination of price increases in the other major markets in the world plus a tightening of the market balance in Europe."

Norske Skog is the world's No. 2 newsprint producer. Other producers agreed that newsprint prices are headed up in Europe.


"We are speaking of a substantial price increase," Swedish papermaker Holmen Chief Executive Magnus Hall told the summit.

Costs are rising, though there has been some easing off in the rise in energy prices and recovered paper prices have flattened out, Rynning-Toennesen said. "I still expect cost pressure throughout the rest of this year," he said.

"In European newsprint, it is likely that we will see price increases bigger than cost increases so that there is some margin improvement," Rynning-Toennesen said.

Magazine paper prices are up and can go further, he said.

Norske Skog has implemented 5 to 7 percent price rises from the second quarter into the third quarter on new contracts, he said. "And we still think there is room to increase prices of magazine paper further from where they are now," he said.

The demand picture in newsprint remains soft in the mature markets of Europe and North America.

"It's already quite obvious that the price increases we see in the United States are because of the (capacity) closures that have been done there because the market for newsprint in the U.S. is declining," he said.

Newsprint demand in Europe is down by 2 percent in the year to date from the same period last year, he said.

"In the U.S. it is obviously continuing down -- it was 8 percent down in the last 8 months in the last 12 months -- whereas we still see very solid growth in Asia outside of Japan, which means particularly high growth in China and India."

"We believe in a slowly downward trend in European newsprint consumption, a steeper decline in U.S. consumption also for the rest of the year, and continued good growth in Asia and South America," he said.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, Camilla Knudsen, Sakari Suoninen and John Acher; Editing by David Cowell)

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