Exclusive: PRH India Deploys 100-Percent Recycled Paper

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Interview: News from PRH India near Delhi outlines the painstaking development of a sustainable, quality paper for books.

Forests and terrace farming near Rampur Bushahr in India’s Himachal Pradesh, December 22. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Pandit Vivek

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Sanjiv Gupta: ‘To Address Environmental Challenges’
Today (November 7), Penguin Random House India has announced its commitment to transition to 100-percent recycled paper, and to that end, it has worked to assess and source out just what it needs in a practical press product.

In an exclusive interview with Publishing Perspectives, Ajay Joshi, the company’s vice-president for supply chain and production, says, “Penguin recognizes the immense responsibility we shoulder as users of paper. Therefore, being eco-friendly and having sustainable practices are of utmost importance. We were one of the first players in India to adopt FSC mix-certified paper, and transitioning to a superior quality recycled paper was the next logical step.”

In mentioning FSC, Joshi refers to the nonprofit timber-certification organization Forest Stewardship Council, founded in 1993 and based in Bonn. And today’s news—from a PRH division based in Gurgaon near New Delhi and producing more than 300 new titles annually with a backlist of at least 3,000 titles—is especially timely in the context of the upcoming United Nations COP28 in Dubai (November 30 to December 12).

In the run-up to that event, Simon Jessop at Reuters is writing, “Half of the world’s 2,000 biggest listed companies have set a target to get to net-zero emissions by mid-century, but just a fraction meet tough United Nations guidelines for what constitutes a quality pledge, a report on Monday showed.” With Net Zero Tracker spotting a 40-percent rise in corporate targets from Forbes2000 index companies, “just 4 percent of the targets meet the criteria laid down by the UN’s Race to Zero campaign.”

Sanjiv Gupta

Sanjiv Gupta, Penguin Random House India COO, says, “We recognize the urgent need to address the environmental challenges associated with using paper in publishing. We’ve been testing 100-percent recycled content paper for some time now, and we’re not only assured of its organic source and ecological production process but also ensured that it doesn’t diminish the reading experience.

“This development aligns with the energy and environmentally efficient practices we’ve been adapting over time.”

To make its new commitment feasible, the company is sourcing its fully recycled paper from an Indian paper mill which has developed the product to the standards and specifications that meet Penguin’s quality requirements.

Paper that has been “upcycled”—another term for the creative reuse of materials in recycling—the company is pointing out today, has several advantages beyond the obvious:

  • Because it’s made entirely from paper waste, less of that waste goes into landfills.
  • It’s not bleached with chlorine or compounds of chlorine, which can reduce the amount of harmful waste produced in manufacturing process.
  • Its production reportedly emits 30-percent less carbon dioxide as compared to virgin paper production, and uses less energy and water by comparison to paper made from wood pulp.

And the shift to make the move entirely to this new paper, while being planned in phased rollout, already had begun, company officials say, with some of the publisher’s text content being printed already on the new paper.

Ajay Joshi: ‘This Wouldn’t Be a Rushed Job’

Forested mountains on the River Gomati near the archeological site at Chabimura in India’s state of Tripura, May 17. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Himen Baidya

In telling Publishing Perspectives what has been involved in finding and implementing the use of the new paper, Joshi says that once the company had adopted the Forest Stewardship Council’s mix-certified paper, the move to a superior-quality product began with the search for the right paper. And, even as so many in the world—particularly delegates to the coming COP28 meetings—sense the clock ticking, there was a certain amount of the process that simply couldn’t be rushed.

Ajay Joshi

We were committed to developing a paper,” he says, “that was as close as possible in look and feel to the ones currently available in the Indian market. After numerous hours of brainstorming sessions and visits to a few paper mills, we identified only a handful of mills equipped to manufacture a paper meeting the company’s expectations. While time was of essence, we took our time sampling to ensure it met our company’s standard.

“We were aware that this wouldn’t be a rushed job. Market challenges prolonged our search far beyond our initial expectations, and it took us an additional six months of paper sampling before it met our company’s standards.”

We ask Joshi what might be a key factor in testing and locating the right paper in a case like this? What would be the key criterion in the search?

Most publishing houses worldwide use high-bulk paper,”  he says, “with a common favorite being the natural shade of paper. For universal acceptance within the company worldwide, our initial task was to deliver a paper that either didn’t compromise or had a very negligible variation in paper shade and quality. It took us almost seven months of testing and adjustments to meet the required specifications of paper tint, weight, opacity, brightness, and so on, working closely with the paper mill.”

“In addition to utilizing recycled paper, we’re conscientiously reducing the use of plastic in our supply chain. We’ve transitioned to employing biodegradable or recycled plastic materials.”Ajay Joshi, Penguin Random House India

After such a long developmental stage, of course, it’s not easy to be patient with implementation, but even that’s not something being accomplished quickly, Joshi says.

The ability and speed with which we can transition,” he says, “are dependent on the availability and supply chain of this paper. Which is why working with a local paper mill in India is helpful because we can oversee the demand and supply.

” And we have other factors to keep in mind before we can go all-out. For example, we have to consider which books already are in stock and stores.

“So it’s prudent to manage the effort and scale up our production n a phased manner.”

Meanwhile, Joshi says the deployment of this specially manufactured recycled paper isn’t the only move that Penguin Random House India & Southeast Asia is making.

“We plan to continue advancing our initiatives toward creating an eco-friendly environment,” he tells us. “In addition to utilizing recycled paper, we’re conscientiously reducing the use of plastic in our supply chain. We’ve transitioned to employing biodegradable or recycled plastic materials.

“Furthermore, we’ve installed a case-sealing machine at our warehouse in India. This has significantly reduced our consumption of BOPP [biaxial oriented polypropylene] tapes and plastic straps that were previously used for sealing cartons.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on sustainability in book publishing is here, more on the climate crisis is here, more on Penguin Random House India is here, and more on the Indian publishing market is here.

For more on sustainability in publishing and the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Publishers Compact, in association with the United Nations, see our articles here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.