I remember receiving the delivery of the very first issue of Paleo Magazine. Like holding a newborn, it felt exciting, nerve-wracking, and almost impossible to put into words. Two months earlier, I had never worked in the publishing industry, never done any sort of graphic design work or written for a print magazine, and now, here was the result of all that hard work. I remember thinking, “This is so much better than a blog.” I had something tangible in my hands. I could smell and feel the paper. I could turn and fold down the pages. I could hand it to someone I thought might benefit from it. Here were my thoughts and ideas, as well as the concepts and ruminations of amazingly smart other folks, manifested onto something physical. It was amazing.
During the next several years, I got just as excited every time a new issue was delivered or I saw it on store shelves. A remarkable amount of work goes into each issue, and seeing each one never failed to bring with it a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. A concrete finality to all those long hours and the creative push that came with each issue.
Naturally, as the years rolled by, Bryan, my business partner, and I began to learn more and more about publishing—including the ins and outs of the dark side of the industry, like what happens to copies that don’t sell, the toxins in ink, the effect of printing on the environment, and the enormous resources that go into delivering magazines to every corner of the country and beyond. With each new waste or harm we learned about, the excitement of a new issue began to wane. In addition to admiring each one, we started to also feel a quiet concern, knowing the hidden costs behind each issue.
So, we began talking with our printers about sourcing sustainable paper and changing over to less toxic materials such as soy-based inks. To reduce waste, we discussed any and all potential options with our distributors and with consultants, trying to streamline delivery and make things as efficient as possible. For years we continued to bring up these topics, hopeful that as technologies improved, cleaner options would begin to pop up.
Unfortunately, the hard truth is that viable options are still a long way off. At this point we’re not even sure there will ever be any.
The U.S. has a voracious appetite for paper and has had one for a long time. In 2016, paper consumption in North America was almost four times the world average, at 470 lb per person per year. That’s a lot of paper. And a lot of trees, to the tune of four billion trees cut down worldwide annually to feed that insatiable demand.
With rising pollution levels and a rapidly changing climate, participating in an industry that relies so heavily on cutting down so many trees every year increasingly weighed on us. To help offset the trees needed to produce each issue, we began donating to plant enough new trees to make up for what that issue had consumed.
But there was a catch. Compared to natural, old-growth forests, “managed forests” aren’t as strong. The saplings tend to be more susceptible to insects, animals, and fungus, and the trees grow too quickly, causing them to be unstable in wind. The idea of planting saplings to replace the trees cut down for paper seemed like a false trade-off.
For years we investigated hemp-based or alternative paper to print Paleo Magazine. Yet hemp remains a nonviable option for commercial printing, with the current options being either much too expensive or simply non-existent. “Sustainable” options have been surfacing, but with all their fanfare, they contain just 10% agricultural waste pulp (still 90% new wood pulp), which fails miserably to impress.
Besides cutting down all those trees, the printing industry negatively impacts the environment with the release of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. In 2008, the printing industry ranked fifth in VOC emissions while the automobile industry ranked lower—sixth. In the EPA’s 2014 National Emissions Inventory, the printing industry does show improvement, however, when you combine printing with pulp and paper plants, the amount of VOCs (99,037 tons released into the environment per year) is 37% higher than the petroleum refinery industry, and more than twice the VOCs of the auto industry and ethanol biorefineries/soy biodiesel industries combined.
Petroleum-based inks used in commercial printing are another source of VOCs. Lead was removed from inks in the 1980s, and low-VOC options such as soy ink were introduced. Unfortunately these new options don’t solve the problem. They are only required to contain greater than 6% soy to be considered “soy-based,” a marginal improvement at best. While the cost of these inks is becoming more competitive, further contributing to the planting of another monocrop is not an ideal solution either.
We understand that these VOC emissions are certainly not all from printing magazines, let alone just from Paleo Magazine. Continuing to print, however, would mean we at PM would be turning a blind eye while remaining part of the problem. We’d rather be the part of the solution, wouldn’t you?
And then there is the waste. One dirty little secret of the print magazine business is that the average sell-thru rate for the entire industry is just 22%. This means that for the average print magazine, for every 100,000 copies that are printed, shipped all over the country, and put on store shelves, 78,000 of them are thrown away. It’s estimated that of those tossed, 20-40% are shipped to China to be recycled (then shipped back to the U.S. in the form of product packaging). The remaining 60-80% are sent to either composting facilities or landfills, where they continue to do their damage. As the paper, covered with toxic inks, breaks down in the landfill, it creates methane and leachate (created when rain water filters through the paper and picks up hazardous chemicals from the ink). This can be harmful if it finds its way into groundwater and the water supply.
Compounding the environmental impacts is the massive amounts of water and fossil fuels used to ship thousands of tons of magazines to distributors, stores, subscribers, landfills, China, and waste facilities each and every year.
As we at the magazine became aware of all the detrimental impacts of the production of each issue, we tried our best to offset them. We also had reasons to try desperately to stay planted in the “print-is-better-than-digital” camp as long as we possibly could. Some studies have shown that the retention of information (especially complex information) is better in a print medium. Print is also more tangible, forcing readers to become more actively engaged when reading.
The more we dug, however, the more we found to like about digital formats. Some may help people retain concrete facts (as opposed to abstract concepts), with other benefits for learning. An online platform makes it more efficient, convenient, and quicker for readers to: share articles, provide us with feedback, interact with ads and videos they find valuable, go immediately to referenced websites and articles, receive and purchase information, access that information at all times and places, and sort and search our delicious recipes. Not to mention those massive environmental benefits. Technology has also provided options to mitigate exposure to digital devices and blue light such as manufacturer setting adjustments, blue blocking screen protectors/glasses, tethering your device, and airplane mode. Unfortunately, there aren’t such easy options available to mitigate the negatives of print.
With the weight of the negative environmental impact weighing on us more with each issue, with solutions just not being there, and with new benefits to digital formats, our bubble finally popped.
We decided we just couldn’t do it anymore. We are therefore announcing that Paleo Magazine is going digital.
The decision to move to a digital-only platform was not an easy one and is not one we take lightly. We’ve wrestled with this decision for years and we tried to change the industry from within—to improve sustainability and reduce waste. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. Even with removing plastic shipping bags for subscribers and planting new trees with every issue, it wasn’t remotely enough. In an industry this big, those changes are like trying to fix cancer with a band-aid.
By its very nature, the magazine print industry is antiquated, wasteful, and harms the environment. The fact is, for every copy of a print magazine that makes it to an end consumer, there’s another four copies that no one reads and simply end up in the trash. Those additional copies, however, also utilize finite resources to produce them, ship them from a printer to a distribution warehouse, ship them again to a retailer, only to then be shipped again to a waste facility where they were shipped to China (only to be shipped back to the US yet again) or shipped off to a landfill. Because of this, we’re both sorry and proud to say, we can no longer support it and are opting out completely.
Our upcoming April/May 2020 issue will be our last print issue on store shelves. Beyond that, Paleo Magazine will be more deeply embracing the power of the Internet while we continue to be the premiere source for everything related to the Paleo lifestyle and ancestral health. Our high-quality content will continue to be carefully curated from credible contributors who are experts in their fields. For as little as $1.25 per month, subscribers will have full access to information that will be updated regularly each week with timely, reliable advice, guidance, recipes, and material that will be easy to search, read, share, investigate, and implement to improve your life. All via a much more environmentally conscious medium.
We are extremely excited to continue providing invaluable information for anyone interested in not just getting healthier but thriving. And now our mission has another benefit—you can do this without contributing to absurd waste and toxic environmental harm.
We hope that you understand the good intentions behind our decision. We look forward to continuing to evolve with you as we at Paleo Magazine strive to improve the health of individuals, our communities, and—for the benefit of all of us for generations to come—our planet.
Tsai CJ, Mao IF, Ting JY, Young CH, Lin JS, Li WL. “Quality of Chemical Safety Information in Printing Industry.” Ann Occup Hyg. 2016;60(3):361-370. doi:10.1093/annhyg/mev079