As one who’s not always a fan of News Ltd’s editorial standards, I’m
loathe to defend Rupert Murdoch, but there’s one front on which he’s
been unfairly criticised by Crikey’s Stephen Mayne over the years.
You’ve said repeatedly that Murdoch is one of the biggest corporate
treekillers, but I can tell you that in Australia he is absolutely at
the other end of the spectrum from the Gunns of the world.

In fact, News and the other publishers have been a good corporate citizens by turning around a very poor
performance on recovering old newspapers in the late 1980s to a world-leading
performance now. Part of that was a result of News setting up an internal
Environmental Secretariat sometime around 1989-1990 that pushed along
efforts to increase newspaper recycling.

But don’t rely on my word on Australia’s old newspaper
recycling improvement – have a look at the Productivity Commission’s draft report on waste
management (pages
406-410), released last month. While the report contains a lot of the
loopy orthodox economists’ take on waste minimisation and resource
recovery, it says Australia is a world leader in its recovery of old
newspapers.

Because of a decision taken by the newspaper publishers around
1990, Australian Newsprint Mills (controlled by the publishers at the
time)
started using old newspapers in a new facility at the Albury newsprint
mill (now owned by Norske Skog). This transformed the volatile market
for old newspapers, which had relied on being used to make cardboard
boxes, while some had been exported.

As the PC says, “the rate of newspaper recycling
increased from 28% to 75% in 2004”, according to the Newsprint
and Publisher Group 2005, while the Publishers National Environment Bureau
claimed Australia recycled more newsprint than any other country. While it would
be best that the PC cited an independent source, there’s no doubt Australia has
made enormous strides on newspaper recycling since the early 1990s.

When I visited the Albury mill in the late 1980s, I was told by the mill’s
managers that it used 1% of the power in the NSW electricity grid. Most of
this was due to the massive, crude grinders turning logs into fibre that
is then used to make the unsophisticated “mechanical” pulp used to make
newsprint. If you use old newspapers for your feedstock in the newsprint mill,
you massively reduce your energy inputs for every section-laden SMH or 100-page-plus Herald Sun that punters buy,
even taking into account the relatively small amounts of energy used to
transport the recycled material back for its next life as a newspaper.

So it seems even Rupert and his fellow publishers recognise the
environmental, economic and PR benefits of good environmental
stewardship, which is consistent with his reputation as a hard-nosed
business operator.