Internet Killing Print Media: Up-Cycling Paper Mills Could Make Digital Communications Greener


Aerial view, closed paper mill in Wisconsin. Image credit:USDA, via Google Maps

Paper Age reports that "total printing-writing paper shipments decreased 6.4% in August compared to August 2010." Burrowing in, Fortress Specialty Cellulose echos the obvious: ""The relentless march of the Internet into every corner of human communications is destroying demand for newsprint," ...."

There's more bad news for paper lovers. US Postal Service plans to significantly cutback services. Among other factors behind the decision to close Post Offices, residents of towns in the former heartland of paper are moving to bigger cities, where there are more jobs and higher bandwidth.Background
Following in the path of Paul Bunyan, Yankee paper magnates once preferred to build their operations in North Woods towns, and typically integrated hydroelectric power generators as a part of the project. (New York Times and Life Magazine and Playboy all built their reputations on what we would now view as 'climate-friendly' paper.) Pretty much the same in Canada, per this report from The Canadian Encyclopedia:

Rapid growth took place in the 1920s, especially in northwestern Ontario and the St-Maurice Valley, Ottawa Valley and Lac Saint-Jean regions of Québec. Mills were sited in northern locations that offered hydroelectric power potential as well as spruce stands.

Contradictions on a roll.
For centuries, paper made of plant cellulose was the basis of much human communication and was the preferred medium for recording history and government transactions. (Tissue, the silent paper, is a relatively recent addition.)

Many print paper mills in the US are closed or about to be shuttered. The ones that made paper mainly from wood cellulose, not petrochemicals, are down for the count, and buyout wizards are on the prowl, having already chewed up the forest lands that supplied them

How could life get better in old paper towns? Is there a way to spread 'knowledge worker' jobs from the cities to the towns? Have the internet become less carbon intensive?

Some of you are probably readying comments to heap blame on unions or government regs instead of digital communications, or to declare that server farm jocks won't want to live in the boondocks. Believe what you want.

What I'm suggesting is that the old mills of human communication might be brought back to life with the machinery of the internet - digiital mill has a nice ring to it - with restored paper machine buildings and upgraded hydroelectric plants. Task one would be to get broadband service to the old mill towns that still need it.

The choice of which mills get wired first should, I believe, be one made by private-public sector partnerships, with elected officials only allowed to do the lobbying to a board of directors, testifying in full view.

Some recent examples.
From the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

MANISTIQUE (AP) -- Stung by the economy, a paper mill that has operated in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for 90 years is closing, a big blow to 150 workers and a community that has benefited from its philanthropy.

To the south, in Wisconsin, from the Wisconsin State Journal:
NewPage Corp. said Wednesday it will close its Whiting paper mill, near Stevens Point, at the end of February. Approximately 360 employees will be affected by the shutdown.

The mill operates two paper machines, which produce about 250,000 tons annually of coated paper used by the publishing and printing industry, primarily for mail-order catalog, magazine and retailer uses...In 2008, the company closed two other Wisconsin paper mills, in Kimberly and Niagara.

Tags: Maine | Michigan | Minnesota | Wisconsin