Visit a book store and you are overwhelmed by the number of books on display. But what will take your breath away is the number of trees that have been cut and the forests destroyed to allow you the pleasure of reading a book.

Would it surprise you if you were told that Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the Harry Potter series. that you read in India may have been different from what a friend of yours read at the same time in Canada? And the same for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ?

Yes, there was a difference for sure, but it was not with the story that JK Rowling wrote. The stories were the same; the difference was in the way the books was produced. The 2003 “Order of the Phoenix” and the 2005 “Half-Blood Prince” were both printed in Canada on 100 per cent recycled paper in an explicit move to make the publishing industry more environment and forest friendly. Just this one act helped save 67,000 trees from the axe.

Green book

At the source of the initiative was a Greenpeace International Campaign to ‘green' the book publishing industry — a campaign that was supported by a number of well known authors such as JK Rowling, Ian Rankin, Günter Grass, and Isabel Allende. Greenpeace had noted that a majority of publishers particularly in Europe and North America were printing their books on paper linked to the destruction of ancient forests in countries such as Finland and Canada. They also found that children's books in South East Asia were directly contributing to the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia.

While this might be a snapshot of what is happening in other parts of the world, little is known of the situation in India. A quick visit to the book store or even the street corner magazine vendor is good enough to give an idea of this boom that has taken place in publishing here. Analysts of the publishing industry estimate that there are nearly 20,000 publishers in India and we produce almost one lakh (yes, one lakh) titles every year. India today stands as the third largest publishing country in the English-speaking world and seventh largest in the world.

The impact that this will have on the demand for paper, and for the trees and bamboo that paper is made from can well be imagined. According to the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association nearly 1,000,000 tons of waste paper are being currently recovered annually for the paper industry. While this is a huge quantity it turns out this recovery rate is about 20 per cent and much lower than the 65 per cent recovery achieved by many global players. There is huge potential for improvement here and in many other big and small ways.

What you can do

Many interesting initiatives already exist in India where the culture of recycling and re-use has always existed. Parents carefully keep school books of the older children for their younger siblings and there are libraries which collect these school text books and then distribute them to those who can't afford them. Not only does this ensure the multiple use of a valuable resource it also helps the environment because new books don't have to be produced. Many homes and offices have a policy of not throwing away one sided paper but putting it to use, by sometimes even converting them to writing pads. There are also more formal efforts like the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Sanghatana (http://www.wastepickerscollective.org/) in Pune and that of the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group (http://www.chintan-india.org/), in Delhi that work with communities involved in recycling waste to give them financial security, better working conditions and health care along with dignity and respect.

There is a bit that each one of us can also do. The effort actually needed is not a very big one, but the satisfaction this would give and the contribution it would make is huge.