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Poetry on Paper Part II – Putting Poetry into Old Coffee Cups

Eileen on train. Image: Dave Adams

After a tantalising three months of correspondence with James Cropper Papermill, not to be able to source paper from their recycled range for Magma 72 was a disappointing blow, but it wasn’t exactly a dead-end. Our contact encouraged me to get in touch with G.F Smith Paper Company the developers of the revolutionary and trademarked Extract Paper Range that utilises CupcyclingTM technology, mentioned in part I of this blog.

More than ordinary recycled paper, this technology was proactively created as an interim solution for dealing with the rise of difficult-to-recycle coffee cups, and the slightly devastating recycling figure of 1 in every 400! The process engages laterally with partners, such as coffee chains, to send their waste cups to the factory, as well as industries that can use the extracted plastic.

Keen to work with environmentally conscious organisations, G.F Smith designed Extract with excellent printability, useable colours and weights, as well as a single sheet policy (minimum 25 sheets), allowing buyers to order to the nearest single digit in order to reduce waste. This reflected exactly the kind of collaboration we were looking for.

‘up-cycling addresses the problem, not the cause. There’s one final point. This is a paper we had to make, but hope to discontinue.’ – Extract Papers

Fuelled by Magma director Lisa Kelly’s support, I was willing to undergo the courting process all over again. This time there was little room for things to go wrong as we had a tight three months until the issue would go to print.

On July 1st I sent my query through their online ‘contact us’ form.  I outlined the aims of Magma 72 and put forward the support-in-kind request. The next day I received an enthusiastic reply, a form attached to make a formal request, and was assigned a paper consultant, Alyson Hurst.

G.F Smith Showspace with White Cups in the Window. Image: Guy Archard

On the last Friday of July, the same day we would meet with the Magma board, Fiona and I arrived at the elegantly presented G.F Smith Showspace in central London for a late morning meeting. I would encourage anyone with an interest in paper to pay a visit to their open-to-the-public showcase and delight in the wall-to-wall array of coloured and textured samples, as well as an interesting archive of paper history. Alyson was instantly likeable, attentive, very switched on, and interested in the Arts. We showed her previous Magma issues, explained our requirements and our lack of budget. Magma Poetry is a non-profit arts organisation that is mostly run by volunteers, which was our main reason in asking for the donation. The meeting was invaluable for several reasons:

a) Alyson immediately noted that our convention of laminated covers wouldn’t be an acceptable use of donated Extract Paper as it would render it non-recyclable and defeat its purpose. This was eyebrow-raising information for us both. The reality is, a large amount of paper that we simply assume can be recycled, can’t. My own further investigation showed that, as well as the problem of plastic laminates, certain adhesives in binding methods can also render a printed publication non-recyclable. Furthermore, a number of printing finishing processes, from certain inks to laminates, can be difficult to de-ink and create the problem of toxic waste in the recycling process, or may not get recycled at all. I hadn’t realised how crucial educating ourselves about our printing choices was to sustainability.

b) Access to recycled papers, especially 100% recycled or of designer quality, was limited and approximately ten-times more expensive than their equivalent made from virgin pulp.

c) The Extract Range had a specific selection of weights and colours, potentially requiring a drastic adjustment to our normal production settings, or significantly affecting the weight of the publication, adding to postage costs.

With this information, I had a great sympathy for any publisher that had an inclination to make greener steps, but found it difficult to do so.

Fiona & Eileen at G.F Smith

Following our meeting with Alyson, we anxiously awaited a reply from G.F Smith about our requirements for a partnership.

By the end of the first week of August, Alyson sent a detailed price list of papers and prices suitable for our project and virtually non-existent budget. Even with a substantial reduction, it was too expensive.  Under pressure, we came up with several other ideas. What about recycled paper suppliers that Short Run Press use? What if we only tried to source recycled paper for the cover and not all of the paper?

These were good questions to ask. Querying Short Run Press, we were told that the price of recycled paper was ‘prohibitive’ and also warned about recycled papers from non-reputable sources as not always ‘harvested’ ethically or suitable for press, requiring costly test runs.

After some discussion with the Magma board, a small allocation was given towards purchasing recycled paper and we decided to query G.F Smith about sourcing cover paper only. Alyson miraculously found something outside of their normal stock: an original trial quantity of Extract Khaki in 300gsm was still being held at the warehouse and was made available to us as an arts organisation. A real basement bargain! I was touched and impressed by the lengths Alyson went through to find a solution, and the flexibility that G.F Smith demonstrated.

We were now almost into September, the proofs needed to be completed and printed in one month’s time. Rather than give up now, I was hopeful about this offer, and tried to temper the nagging feeling that the paper colour would be too dark to be workable. I requested samples of the khaki. All we needed now was an approval from Short Run Press that the colour could be printed on successfully and legibly, and something suitable could be matched in look, feel and ethics for the inner pages, without disrupting the standard Magma printing process too much and increasing our production set-up costs.

This was a formidable last hurdle. Running out of time, the threat of simply defaulting to the standard Magma presets (after nearly ten months of pursuit) loomed. We encountered nail-biting delays as our printers weren’t used to this kind of request from environmentally motivated customers. Thanks to the wonderfully creative, eleventh-hour help of our typesetter and graphic designer Martin Parker, we experimented with several ‘not-quite’ design options before landing on the final, very beautiful and perfectly suited version of our chosen cover design. It was adapted from a photo (by Paul Stephenson); we’d originally intended the cover to be the photo itself, in standard Magma style.

Finally seeing the issue to completion gave me an incurable amount of satisfaction. To my eye, the poems themselves seem to sit on the page a little bit more comfortably enveloped in recycled paper. With the editorial team and board working together, right to the brink, we were able to consciously make the issue a little bit greener, actively bridging poetics and practical activism. We

a) Replaced the non-recyclable laminated cover with salvaged, Extract Range Recycled Khaki 300gsm paper.

b) Used a lighter-weight uncoated Munken FSC paper, sourced by Short Run Press, for the inside.

c) Minimised overall ink usage by altering inner and outer design features.

d) Replaced plastic packaging with paper postage envelopes.

These are only small steps, restricted in trying to make a difference within a process already in motion. But what kind of changes could be possible given more awareness, research, collective support, time, or access to money?

Alyson Hurst with Eileen at Magma’s London Launch

On a wider level, how important is our textual culture? Particularly written or printed vs. digital? Might we simply move into an era of a reestablishment of the importance of orality? As poets, do we long for a world where poetry makes it as high-priority material for paper use, while the solutions for monetary notes or toilet paper might have different reincarnations? Or, can poetry adapt onto a different medium altogether?


As much as I love paper, I love forests more. For me there is some tangential likeness, between the value I place on wrapping gifts, writing cards, or keeping a journal and my feeling about the big-picture production of spines of poetry. I hope our collective awakening and deeper appreciation of the limitations of our environmental resources will help us in reshaping ourselves, fundamentally if necessary. And yet, I am also holding on to a small hope that into the long future we will still be able to afford some thoughtfully selected, cultural extravagances.


Next up: Anna Selby reports on this week’s seminar at Cambridge Conservation Initiative – a discussion on poetry, climate change and our collaboration with conservation scientists at CCI.

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