We need to talk about paper. It’s OK, don’t worry but it’s a pretty serious conversation. Back in the day, when you first started thinking about climate change we had that chat about you going paperless. I know you tried we all did but we had to make some compromises. The thing is everyone did and then everything changed. When the crunch happened, then the crash then austerity we all had an excuse for taking an eye off the ball but we need to look at it again and this time it’s all different.
Remember that recycled paper, the one you loved and made you feel good? You know the one that still bought but you couldn’t really afford it and you got your supplier to drill down the price on? Well it’s not what it was.
It started when we started really drilling down the cost of paper and two different things started to happen. The first is about the paper itself. When the buyers started drilling down the costs they passed the pressure onto the supplier, who swallowed some of it (more in that later) but passed a portion into the paper merchants. The paper merchants were having a tough enough time of it anyway, delivering paper is a hard business so they passed it into the manufacturers. Then the manufacturers started cutting costs.
Paper was always international but after 2008 it became truly global and supply chains became transcontinental. First the big white paper mills in Europe started closing and that took out the white paper pulp recycling. So when we recycled we had to put our paper on a boat and send it elsewhere. That turned out to be Bangkok or Brazil, South Africa or south China. While a sheet of paper might be light, bails of paper aren’t so we normalised the shipping of recycled paper costing millions of tonnes of CO2 so that we would feel good about using that recycled paper.
Recently the paper mills have returned (under new ownership) and so have some of the recycling plants but still not enough to satisfy our demands so the mill owners have to guarantee supply. That means that the greenest papers of 2009 are back on sale but now your office recycling goes to Asia and is shipped back as recycled pulp on a 20,000 km journey to be sold as “green” paper that makes you feel good.
The second thing that happened was to your supplier. You know that thing you did when you were worried about not being able to afford your premium recycled paper and you started drilling down the price? Well here’s the thing. You can’t actually make paper for £10 a box anymore. So if you can’t make it for that and then you have to, market it, deliver it pay for the staff and the tax man how come you’re seeing it advertised at that price?
What happens is the people that are selling it know that the first (and sometimes only) thing that buyers look at is the price of their paper. That means the seller is banking on you not looking at the price of everything else in your basket. £9.99 for a box paper – no problem. 50 pens? That’s £45 quid please. Thank you very much. Which ever way your going to pay. For the bigger companies there is another dark side. 9.99 for the paper no worries. Don’t want to pay on the rest well we can take a bit of a haircut on the rest of the basket because we’ve put all our staff on zero hours.
What you have to understand is whatever you do there is a cost to be paid. If you’re clever you can reduce the bit you pay by looking closely. Just don’t think that the bit you miss out on isn’t going to be paid by the planet or the people you pass on the street.
At Ethical Stationery we are always transparent about our pricing and the environmental impact of our products. Talk to us and let’s see what we can do to help everybody, socially, environmentally, responsibly.