Yet another product has been added to the growing list of world commodities in short supply: newsprint - the paper on which most newspapers are printed.
Yet another product has been added to the growing list of world commodities in short supply: newsprint - the paper on which most newspapers are printed. The shortage of this rather cheap-looking paper is now so acute that newspapers in some countries have already been forced to cut down the size of their editions, and many others are preparing to follow suit.
Trees, of course, are the basis of the problem. The world's forest are not infinite and the demand for timber is outstripping supply. Several other factors have also combined in the last few months to make the newsprint shortage critical.
The economic boom in North America, Western Europe and Japan has brought an advertising boom which has escalated the demand for newsprint. At the same time, the major producers of newsprint - Canada and Scandinavia - have been beset by a series of problems, which has reduced their output. Strikes at nine of Canada's 23 mills, plus a railway strike have reduced her exports, and Finland has also been faced with dock strikes and labour troubles. What mill machinery is in operation is working at maximum capacity and is unable to boost production further to deal with the emergency.
The United States, as the biggest consumer of newsprint, is the hardest hit by the shortage. Demand this year is running at 9 per cent above last year's level and severe price increases have just been announced. To conserve their precious supplies, American newspapers have been dropping features, rationing advertising and, in some cases, even suspending production for a day or two.
In Britain, the smaller provincial papers were the first to be affected, and there are fears that some may not survive if the shortage continues. Advertising is the life blood of Western newspapers and cutbacks could prove fatal.
In India, the Government has cut supplies of newsprint by 30 per cent in an attempt to regulate consumption, and in Japan, paper prices have soared by nearly 60 per cent in the past year.
The re-use of newsprint to increase supplies appears to offer a solution. A few mills in Britain and the United States have developed machinery which can successfully repulp newspapers and magazines.
The British firm, Reed Paper and Board, is a recognised leader in this field. It operates two de-linking and reprocessing plants. The recycled content of the newsprint it produces is about 30 per cent. This comes from unsold printing, large organisations such as the Civil Service,s commercial concerns, charity collections and form the few local authorities that collect waste paper from householders in their areas.
Recycling paper not only has the advantage of conserving the world's forests and possibly circumventing future shortages, it also cuts the cost of importing raw pulp, and the cost of disposing of waste paper as rubbish.
SYNOPSIS: The forests of Canada and Scandinavia supply most of the world's newsprint - the paper on which most newspapers are printed - but demand is outstripping supply and the resulting world shortage has made this rough paper a sought-after and precious commodity.
Labour problems and strikes, particularly in Canada, have aggravated the shortage.
Swedish mills are already working at maximum capacity but, without more machinery, they are unable to meet the sudden shortfall in supplies.
The United States, as the largest consumer of most commodities, including newsprint, has been the hardest hit.
American papers have been dropping features, rationing advertising and, in some cases, have even suspended production temporarily to conserve their supplies of newsprint so that the presses can keep rolling.
Britain, India and Japan have also been affected by the newsprint scarcity. British provincial papers were the first to suffer and there are fears that some may not survive if the shortage continues.
India has cut supplies of newsprint by 30 per cent in an attempt to regulate consumption. And in Japan, paper prices have soared by nearly 60 per cent in the past year.
Advertising revenue is the lifeblood of Fleet Street - centre of British publishing - and other Western newspapers. Cutbacks could seriously affect their economic visibility. Ironically, the advertising boom. spawned by the soaring economies of North America and Western Europe, has escalated the demand for newsprint.
Waste paper may well prove to be the saviour of the newspaper industry.
The British firm, Reed Paper and Board, was one of the first paper-makers to see the economic possibilities of recycling old newspapers and magazines. It now operates two plants which can clean the ink from wastepaper so that it can be reused as newsprint.
The paper is pulped with the help of chemicals before it is stripped of ink.
The resulting stock is combined with virgin pulp - producing newsprint which has a recycled content of about 30 per cent. This is already used in substantial quantities by many newspapers.
For Britain, this use of waste paper is also helping to ease the country's chronic balance of payments and, for the rest of the world, it will also help conserve the timber forests in the long term. Businessmen have joined conservationists in taking a long, hard look at re-using this shrinking natural resource.