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Volume 15, Issue 45 ~ November 8 - November 14, 2007

Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: Or e-mail us at:

From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Not So Pretty a Picture

Glossy magazines look good but add to the gunk-stream

I would think that the glossy paper used by most magazines is bad for the environment, yet most publishers still use it, even the outdoors and environmental titles. What’s the scoop? Is paper made glossy by using chemicals that are not safe?

–Kellina Higgins, via e-mail

It’s no secret that glossy coatings on magazine covers make pictures pop and attract the eye, helping publications compete for attention on ever more crowded newsstands. Publishers are increasingly putting the emphasis on graphics and photography, and glossy papers have become the industry norm for both covers and interior pages, according to Jerry Stranahan of Lane Press, a Vermont-based printer that produces some 350 magazines. Yes, this includes many outdoors and nature titles.

The basic glossy finish of a magazine cover or inside page is usually built into the paper itself at the time of manufacture, typically made of either clay or calcium carbonate. From a materials perspective, clay-based kaolin is the more environmentally friendly of the two, though clay makes the re-pulping of paper gunkier, thus more difficult to work with in subsequent recycling.

Calcium carbonate also has its pros and cons: “The calcium is lighter, thus it takes less fuel to transport it, and it acts as a whitener, so less chlorine is needed to bleach the paper,” says Frank Locantore, who directs the WoodWise program for the nonprofit Coop America. “But it drives the destruction of mountain tops in Vermont and elsewhere to get at the mineral.”

Other glossy coatings are sometimes applied later at the printer as the last step in the process. In addition to enhancing the look of the cover, these coatings reduce the scuffing that covers endure in handling and through the mail. Publishers generally have three choices: varnish, aqueous or UV coatings.

Varnish is essentially a clear petroleum-based ink (no pigment), similar to the other inks already applied to the paper. Aqueous coatings are water-based clear inks that use few chemicals but need a lot of heat to dry, thus entailing greater energy usage. UV coating is a very glossy finish applied usually to heavier cover stocks and often used by fashion magazines for a very slick appearance. The UV refers to the ultra-violet light used to dry it after application. It consumes less energy than heat, though the UV coatings themselves contain large amounts of petroleum-derived chemicals.

“Magazines want to be competitive on the newsstands, and most need to have a glossy cover in order to do so,” says Locantore. “Government,” he says, “should create incentives for research and development that develops hazardous chemical-free processes for papermaking and printing.” Locantore also says that consumers can play a key role in moving the industry forward by making their preferences for sustainable choices known to the magazines they read and subscribe to. Emails, phone calls or letters to publishers urging greener sourcing and operations will not go unnoticed, he says.

For more information:

• Lane Press:

• Coop America’s WoodWise Program:

Got an environmental question? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at or e-mail Read past columns at:

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