Getting the Scoop

Throughout the windy city of Chicago, it's not difficult to find businesses and corporations that have gotten caught up in a flurry of recycling their waste.

At the corporate offices of Quaker Oats, for example, every employee has a blue recycling basket for paper next to his or her desk. In suburban Deerfield, pharmacy giant The Walgreen Co., likewise, is dedicated to recycling the mountains of cardboard boxes that flow through its drug stores.

While many companies make some effort to comply with recycling requirements, few major employers in the Chicago area are quite as committed to reducing and recycling their waste as the venerable Chicago Tribune.

As one of America's major daily newspapers, the Tribune employs nearly 1,600 people at its printing facilities and main offices, where the company has internal recycling programs for paper, aluminum and glass. Additionally, the Tribune tries to reduce and reuse the vast quantities of materials used to produce its newspapers instead of landfilling the waste.

From its sprawling 700,000-square-foot printing and distribution facility at Freedom Center, 661,699 copies of the newspaper are distributed throughout the city and region each weekday. On Sundays, the paper swells with weekend advertising, and the Tribune's circulation climbs to more than 1 million.

The Paper Purchased

Obviously, newsprint is the lifeblood of the “Trib,” and the company uses a lot of it — more than 190,000 tons of newsprint each year and a similarly staggering 5 million pounds of ink. In addition to printing the Tribune, each day, 10 mammoth presses also churn out the local edition of the New York Times.

To reduce costs while contributing to a cleaner environment, the Tribune has launched a two-pronged approach: To both reduce waste and recycle it — at a profit, whenever possible.

First, “all of our newsprint is recycled,” says Colleen Garlington, the Tribune's manager of environmental safety and health. “That includes white waste, which would be paper that was not actually printed on. It also includes printed paper that either is waste here in the facility, or paper that we bring back from the field. Everything is baled and sent out for recycling.”

Recycling paper has many benefits, says Jeffrey D. Bierig, the Tribune's director of public relations. It provides a small profit center for the newspaper, he says. “We're paid for all the recycled material that we send out.” However, the amount of revenue produced by selling the paper to be recycled varies widely throughout the year, with the rise and fall of recyclable markets.

The prices to purchase new newsprint fluctuate tremendously, Bierig explains. “That's one of the reasons that recycling is so important in the newspaper area. At certain points, we would be getting more or less [money for selling our recycled paper], and of course, we would be spending many times that to [buy] the paper.”

So whatever money the Tribune can get for selling its paper is welcomed, Bierig says.

The newspaper also closes the recycling loop by purchasing newsprint with recycled content. In fact, the Tribune was among the first major dailies in the nation to use recycled paper in the mid-1980s.

“We use different newsprint, but the newsprint that we run the most is about 80 percent,” Garlington explains. “Some of the others we use run at 20 percent. So it averages between 40 to 45 percent [recycled content].”

Over the years, the company even has used newsprint with 100 percent recycled content. “We've tried higher content, but because the paper actually has to hold the web through the presses, we lose some of the strength of the paper when we go to 100 percent,” Garlington says. “But we try to keep that [recycled content] number as high as we can.”

Watching the Paper Trail

In addition to using recycled-content paper, Garlington says the Tribune staff believes they can realize even greater savings by reducing the amount of waste produced in the paper operation. Consequently, the company always has a watchful eye on paper consumption in the pressroom. “That's one of the parameters that is measured and watched very closely,” she says. “That's money to us.”

As the paper arrives at the Tribune's facility, the newsprint department exercises great care to avoid damaging the rolls. Weighing nearly 2,000 pounds each and measuring 5 feet long and just as wide, the mammoth spools resemble giant tissue paper rolls. Despite their size, however, the rolls of paper are quite fragile and easily damaged. If a hole pokes through the paper, this requires cutting a length of the damaged area off before it can be threaded through the press. The damaged area becomes waste paper, so the staff tries to minimize this problem as much as possible.

Additionally, the newspaper encourages its readers to recycle throughout the city and works to ensure that copies of the paper are not being wasted.

“When our single-copy guys go out — those guys who service the stores and [newspaper] boxes — they pick up everything that doesn't sell,” Garlington says. “We bring unsold newspapers back here, and we count all those papers.”

By looking at what sold and what didn't, the Trib is able to adjust its print count to avoid producing too many newspapers. Every day, the Tribune prints an overrun of approximately 5 percent to 10 percent above expected sales.

“All those unsold papers always come back,” Bierig says. “There is a lot of focus — especially when it comes to the press crews and the runs — to keep the waste down. In the newsprint department, newsprint costs are a significant item. Everything that is brought back here gets recycled.”

Meantime, the company tries to recycle used papers by placing recycling bins on subway and train platforms throughout the city. These bins are then emptied by local municipal authorities that operate their own recycling programs. Plastic bags that protect home-delivered papers also can be recycled.

“Our papers come in plastic bags to people's houses, and we cooperate with grocery stores so they recycle the bags through their stores,” Bierig notes. “Over the years, we have looked at different opportunities to encourage recycling.”

The Smell of Printer's Ink

The Tribune's efforts go beyond just paper, however. The company has waged a continuing battle to reduce and reuse as much of its printing ink as possible. With thousands of tons of ink going through the presses each day, there are many opportunities for loss before, during and after each press run, Garlington says.

“Again we look at minimization,” she says. “With our inks, we constantly examine different products to determine where we can minimize the volatile contents. When we run the inks through the press, 95 percent of the ink that we use is retained in the paper. The ink that is not retained in the paper is recovered when the presses are cleaned.” Ink caught in the pipes that feed the print rollers also is collected and reused, she says.

“Some of the other ink we actually send out as drummed waste, but that goes to be blended and reused as fuel,” Garlington says. A Chicago-area recycler, Clean Harbors, handles the drummed ink waste and mixes it with other materials to produce a fuel used to fire industrial cement kilns.

“The only reason ink goes out drummed at all,” Garlington explains, “is because it has a burning content.” Although it is not considered a flammable or hazardous material, the ink is combined with quantities of paper dust and has a high Btu (British thermal unit) rating.

Colored inks are soy-based and have a lower volatile content, Garlington says, noting that the company is working with the supplier of its black ink to reduce its volatile content.

Meantime, “we've put in a system that is going to recycle more of the ink that we recapture,” Garlington says. “It's a filtration system, so it would make more of the ink reusable. That's one of our efforts, both to reduce the waste that goes out and to recycle or reuse as much of the ink as possible. If the ink that we recover from the presses during cleaning has not been mixed with anything else — just paper — we can filter out the paper and reuse that ink. We believe the filtration system will be better and open up more opportunities for us to recapture more ink.”

Once recovered, the old ink can be blended with fresh ink to create product with a high enough quality to use in the presses.

Metals and More

Aluminum plates used on the presses also are collected and recycled. “Those go out for reuse,” Garlington says. “They're not reused as plates, but they are recycled and used for the aluminum. In our film processing, we recover silver both from the processing fluids and the film that is used. The silver and film is recycled.” Other materials, such as metal equipment, also are recycled.

After each press run, employees must clean the presses. The positive image burned on plates presses a negative image onto the blankets, which, in turn, print each side of the paper. These blankets must be washed down and wiped off by pressmen. The shop clothes used in this process then are sent to an industrial laundromat, where they are cleaned before being returned for reuse — up to five times. The company also recovers used oil from the presses, which can be reused as well.

Throughout the spacious building of this highly respected newspaper, the din of metal printing plates against metal printing plates echoes through the air. A stream of newspapers with blaring headlines rolls off the presses. Some things, it seems, never change.

At the Tribune, however, a new era has dawned in which recycling and reuse are not just nods to the environment, but a nod to good business sense as well.

Randy Southerland is an Atlanta-based free-lance writer.