Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mandatory Newsprint Recycling Laws: A Challenge to the Paper They Are Printed On

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mandatory Newsprint Recycling Laws: A Challenge to the Paper They Are Printed On

Article excerpt

Mandatory newsprint recycling laws: A challenge to the paper they are printed on

The proliferation of local laws and the prospect of federal legislation requiring the use of recycled newsprint is sending a shudder of alarm through the newspaper industry.

While much of the industry's concern has been focused on the costly and inadequate supply of recycled newsprint and the technical and business difficulties in complying with these laws, relatively little attention has been devoted to the possibility of opposing pending or existing newsprint recycling legislation.

Challenge to the green

This is attributable, in part, to the public relations dilemma such a challenge presents during a time of aggressive consumer emphasis on environmentalism. Opposition to such legislation needs to be couched in a strategy that would engender as much emotional appeal for consumers as that of the "green revolution."

Challenging existing laws on the constitutional ground that mandotory newsprint recycling statutes violate the First Amendment right of freedom of the press serves as such a platform. When politically feasible, there is a basis for mounting a strong constitutional attack.

A possible example of what may become a test case involves a recent newsprint recycling statute enacted by the Suffolk County, N.Y., Legislature.

The new law prohibits the printing, sale, or distribution of any newspaper or advertising circular with a weekly circulation of 20,000 or more which does not use 40% recycled material. The law is to be phased in over a five-year period beginning Dec. 31, 1991. At that time, 15% of all copies in circulation must use the recycled material; the percentages steadily increase to 100% by Dec. 31, 1996.

Although the statute was enacted to encourage recycling of paper products, the Legislature chose to focus its regulatory attention on the press, to the exclusion of major non-media users of paper products such as corrugated boxes or shopping bags.

Furthermore, the statute has the effect of singling out large newspapers while leaving alone smaller newspapers, magazines, and book publishers. It is these discriminating features of the law, found in many of the mandatory newsprint recycling statutes across the country, which provide the basis for a First Amendment challenge.

Supreme Court support

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a regulatory program which either singles out the press for differential treatment or places special burdens on a subset of the press is presumptively unconstitutional. …

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