Recycled newsprint was ‘the’ issue last century; legislature has disbanded the task force

2017 legislation repealed Recycled Newsprint Task Force. It only met once and did very little even then


Rebecca Snyder, my counterpart at the Maryland/Delaware/DC Press Association, brought up a dinosaur this week. Geez, it had been ages since I read about, heard about, even thought about legislatures and…

Recycled Newsprint!!!

But first, an update. Legislation that I mention below, was repealed during the 2017 session. Back last century, the legislature developed a Recycled Newsprint Task Force that was supposed to meet regularly, give guidance to newspapers on using more and more recycled newsprint and work with mills to ensure Kentucky newspapers had adequate access to newsprint containing recycled fibers. Here’s a line in an all-encompassing “Reorganization Bill” that was approved during the session.

“224.43–080 Newsprint Recycling Task Force—Composition—Duties. — Repealed”

Recycled newsprint legislation was back in the Dark Ages. Well at least discussions got started before “You’ve Got Mail” and Al Gore’s World Wide Web, whatever that was going to be.

In Kentucky, the topic goes back to Rep. Mark Brown and Rep. Herbie Deskins and Rep. Soybean Sam McElroy. Ok, his real name wasn’t Soybean Sam, it was just Sam. But we referred to him as Soybean Sam because he wanted Kentucky newspapers to use nothing but Kentucky grown soybeans for ink. He’d laugh about it but in an almost serious tone.

Reps. Brown and Deskins on the other hand were not kidding. They fought and fought and fought for all things recycled. And newsprint was right up there at the top. We appeased them with some facts and figures, brought in some newsprint mill officials from Kentucky, the Southeast and even Canada. We told them Kentucky was never going to get an abundance of recycled newsprint because larger states with much larger newspapers were going to scoop up as much recycled tonnage as possible. And as legislatures around the country, grew requirements that at least 50 percent of the newsprint must be from recycled fibers, well we just ket trying to convince them it wasn’t going to work.

What they agreed to didn’t have mandates in it, like Maryland/Delaware/DC enacted, and still has by the way. But we agreed to collect information on the number of tons of total newsprint, tonnage that contained recycled fiber and then we’d file a report with the Department of Natural Resources each year.

All that started in the mid-1990s. The legislature wanted to survey every single newspaper, like the publisher of every newspaper is going to know how many tons of newspaper his/her paper used that year, how many tons contained recycled fiber, so based on that the percentage of recycled fiber used, total content tons and percent recycled content tons. (No, I’m not making up those labels as such but sounded important so that’s how the columns were labeled.)

I say it that way because I had the legislature and DNR agree to let KPA collect, collate and file the data once each year. A copy would be given to the DNR and to the legislative committee members. Gosh to make it realistic, we even testified one time before the committee.

What a waste of time. For a couple of years, I’d deliver the annual report to Natural Resources and act like it was some real important publication the chair of DNR needed (one or two times it was Philip Shepherd, known better now as a Franklin Circuit Judge). By the fourth year, I “forgot” to file the report though I did collect the data just in case the state wised up and realized it hadn’t been filed with them yet.

An example of facts and figures

Looking at the 2002 report, there were 42 printing plants in Kentucky. That’s about twice the number of plants we have printing newspapers now.

Total tons of newsprint used in 2002 was 84,110.888. Wonder what it would be today? Of that 84,000, 75,555 contained recycled fiber, giving us 89.83 percent of newsprint used in Kentucky containing recycled fiber. Probably led the nation in recycled newsprint used that year but then no one was reading the report so what the heck.

Don’t get me wrong. KPA was serious about this early on. And we complied with the law year in, year out until the state had little interest. And then Reps. Brown and Deskins left the legislature and no one cared at all about the report. Or about recycled newsprint, or anything else to do with mandated statewide recycling, blah, blah, blah.

I did learn a few things in that time.

• Virgin newsprint is newsprint that has never been used

• 100 percent recycled newsprint is impossible to obtain. The Kentucky, Southeast and Canadian mills told the legislative committees that there has to be a mix of virgin newsprint at all times because the recycled fibers have to have something to stick to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *