Short Takes: Catch a (Paper) Tiger By the Tail

WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you wanted to save 851,000 tons of wood? Or 2.1 billion gallons of waste water? Just ask your favorite catalog company to switch to recycled paper. According to a survey of 42 companies conducted by Environmental Defense, a New York City-based nonprofit group, of the 17 billion catalogs that the U.S. catalog industry mails to consumers each year, an overwhelming majority are printed on virgin paper. This process consumes huge quantities of wood, energy, and water and generates significant air and water pollution. Even a switch to 10% postconsumer recycled content would benefit the environment, the group says. (Postconsumer materials are finished goods that have served their intended use and would otherwise end up in a landfill or incinerator.) The report asserts that recycled paper is widely available, reasonably priced, and performs just as well as its virgin counterpart.

Titled “Does Your Catalog Care?” the study is sure to spark controversy because it doesn’t shirk from naming the offenders, especially so-called nature-oriented catalogs. “Ironically, the list of companies using little or no recycled paper — or that refused to respond to our survey — includes several companies that market their products to outdoor enthusiasts,” the authors point out. “For such companies, choosing to print their catalogs on virgin paper is at odds with their customers’ appreciation for the natural world.” Among these merchants are L.L. Bean, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Orvis, The Sportsman’s Guide, Eddie Bauer, and Lands’ End.

But there are good guys, too, in the catalog business, particularly among smaller firms. Retailers that use large amounts of recycled paper include REI, Sundance, Patagonia, Gaiam, and Canada’s Mountain Equipment Co-op; the gold star goes to Seeds of Change, a gardening catalog with 60% postconsumer recycled content.

For more information, visit or call the organization at (617) 723-2996.

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