What do you do with your newspaper when you’re done reading it? Put it in the recycle bin? Save it for packing paper? Well, one Japanese publishing company wanted you to be able to grow herbs with it! The “Green Newspaper” was invented by the publisher of the famous Japanese daily, The Mainichi Shimbunsha. Published for "Greenery Day" on May 4, 2016, the special edition dedicated to environmental news was printed on 100% biodegradable paper with plant-based ink, and embedded with seeds that, when planted, would grow into flowers to attract butterflies and other pollinators, or herbs to eat. The publisher instructed people to tear the discarded newspaper into small pieces, plant the shreds in soil, and then water the container as they would any plant.
The concept was invented by Dentsu Inc, one of Japan’s largest advertising agencies, which works with The Mainichi. Environmental sustainability is a core value for the publisher. In fact, its mission states,
The initiative included an educational and events components, as well. The publisher gave lessons on environmental issues in schools throughout Japan, using the Green Newspaper as the central learning tool. It also held public events that demonstrated how to plant the paper, and held discussions and lessons on recycling and sustainability.
The plantable newspaper initiative reached 4.6 million people, and generated over $700,000 for the publisher, as well as over 80 million yen worth of press that went far beyond newspapers alone, causing a sensation, and much inspiration, on the internet. With over four million copies circulated each day across the country, the initiative underscored the newspaper industry’s ability to reach vast swaths of the public, and to influence attention to environmental issues. Other initiatives have sprouted elsewhere in the world including India, while several companies in the United States have begun to manufacture plantable paper for various purposes: notecards, stationery, wrapping paper, etc.
95 million trees are consumed for newspapers every year. Meanwhile, the internet has dramatically impacted how people consume the news, and print readership has declined rapidly. Reimagining and reinventing the newspaper industry’s environmental impact could be transformative not only for the environment itself, but for the publishing industry as well.