Production: Managing Paper Waste, Our Most Precious and Expensive Commodity

Unless you have a solid commitment from the whole team you’re not going to be successful. Here someone is throwing away a roll with 5 inches still on the core. This represents increased white waste and shows a lack of team effort and buy-in.

All printers have paper waste. It’s an inherent part of the overall process and can’t be entirely avoided, but it can be controlled to a degree. Tracking web breaks, accurate accounting of waste percentages, starting runs with butt rolls, starting up with less expensive stock before splicing into more expensive Hi-Brite or Offset stock—there are several tricks of the trade that can save money and minimize waste, but it all starts with a solid commitment from your team.

Most waste conservation programs are based on the experience we’ve gained throughout our career. As we’ve worked our way up in the trade, we’ve figured out various ways to minimize waste, some more successful than others. Successful programs are not based simply on common sense and experience, but more importantly dependent on employee buy-in. You can employ all of the processes you’d like, but if you don’t have everyone on-board with the program it doesn’t stand a chance. It’s important that everyone has each other’s back and shows 100 percent commitment to the success of the team. A single press operator who doesn’t believe in the plan can undo every bit of savings the rest of your team can drum up.

If you think it’s a 50/50 mix (half buy-in and half processes), you’re wrong. I’d put it closer to 80/20. From top management to the newbie in the reel room, if you’re not going to get the commitment from your team you don’t stand a chance; and as much as I hate saying this, don’t waste your time reading any further if you can’t gain 100 percent commitment from your team from the beginning. It’s like building a house on a faulty foundation. It will look fine for a while, right up to the point it all comes crashing down.

Coincidently, this article comes at a very appropriate time. One of the largest paper vendors in our industry recently announced a U.S. newsprint price increase which includes alternative offset paper as well, effective this month. You can rest assured that other vendors will follow and we’ll be up against yet one more challenge. While I certainly understand paper manufacturers need to remain profitable and manage their businesses accordingly, it couldn’t come at a worse time for an industry fighting circulation challenges, declining ad revenues and differential revenue between ROP advertising and digital dollars.

I don’t mean this to come across as doom and gloom because it’s not. We’re in an industry that has been around in America for more than 300 years, and I’m a firm believer that based on the thirst for local/community news and credible quality journalism, we’ll be around for a while longer. But only if we continue to manage our resources, run our business like a business, and minimize our largest single consumable expense: paper.

Painting the Picture

Before we get into some of the “common sense” solutions to paper waste, I ran some numbers to support the opportunity that presents itself in paper savings. These rough numbers depend on your base price and are for a ton of paper, the grade of paper, your vendor and buying cooperative.

Let’s say you’re a medium sized daily (around 30,000) and print an average of 32 broadsheet pages daily and 64 pages on Sunday; publish daily six days a week (312 pubs) and (52) Sundays. Based on what you’re paying for paper, 4 percent waste costs you roughly $89 each weekday and $178 Sunday. To some this might not sound like much, but annualized it quickly adds up to more than $37,000. While that’s a nice chunk of money and can certainly cause you pain, it’s a number that many of us would love to hit. Based on color pages and the inherent/necessary waste referenced earlier, 4 percent waste is a respectable number to some and an ultimate goal to others.

Now, to get your attention, let’s take those same draws and play with the waste a bit. Ten percent waste isn’t really a terrible number for many of us. I’ve worked in shops where it’s a goal we fought daily to maintain. Based on the pages and circulation above, 10 percent waste represents roughly 3,000 waste per run. That’s not terrible depending on color, pasters, web breaks and the skills of your crew. But 10 percent waste brings you in right around $93,000 in annual waste. That should get anyone’s attention and emphasize the importance of managing waste effectively.

Just one more number to get my point across: if your shop is what I’d refer to as “out of control” and you’re closer to that 20 percent number (it’s not as uncommon as you might think), waste is around $186,000 annually, and you probably should be scanning the help wanted ads on a regular basis.

Dozens of neatly stacked cores with white waste remaining on the core, ready for sale to readers or local movers. While this isn’t a lot of revenue, it builds goodwill in the community and keeps foot traffic coming into the newspaper office.

Turning Waste to Revenue

So, let’s move on to some solutions that just might help manage waste and contribute to the bottom line of your organization.

We start with a neatly wrapped roll sitting on a truck (or railcar). Normally the mill loads rolls with care and most crushed cores and nicks happen when we unload at our docks. This is the first opportunity we have to reduce waste. Rolls are handled numerous times before they go on press; each of us has a different flow-pattern. I strongly recommend reviewing your handling process to limit the amount of times rolls spend in a clamp truck. I’d also have a discussion with your newsprint handler to make sure they’re on-board and giving 110 percent commitment to your conservation program. Take a walk through your warehouse/paper storage with your handler, discuss scored rolls, ripped kraft wrappers, gouges and crushed cores. This is probably one of the easiest areas to control waste in. All of this damage can be eliminated and is a direct result of human error rather than processes.

Rolls in your lay down area or adjacent to your press should be as pristine as when they came off the truck; it’s as simple as that.

The next controllable in the process is stripping of the wrapper. Some pressmen remind me of the diabolical doll Chucky from the “Child’s Play” horror film series when it comes to prepping a roll. Again, this comes down to the human element and damage is 100 percent avoidable. If wrappers are stripped off haphazardly, there will be damage to the paper. I’ve seen plenty of press operators turn a .25-inch knick into a 1-inch slab-cut “just to be safe.” If you have a knick in a roll (which you really shouldn’t in the first place), trim to a minimum. If you have a knick in the side of the roll, use a Dremel tool (about $50) to notch-out the gouge. Once the problem has taken place, making it bigger is not better.

I used to work for a publisher who had a knack for calculating lost printable pages for every sheet of damaged paper off a roll. Although his formula seemed a bit off at times, I truly appreciated the point he was trying to make to the crew—wasted paper is wasted money, and carelessness means money.

Establishing a goal of all rolls making it to the press without damage is easily achievable. If you’re not there, you have no excuse and need to have a serious talk with your paper handlers. It’s the minimum acceptable mark for any good program.

Before I let the paper vendors off scot free, while infrequent, if you receive paper with defects, glue on the side, nicks from vendor handling, calendar cuts, spun cores, etc. be sure to take photos, record the damage and roll number tying it back to the specific bill of lading/order, and contact your vendor immediately for information on how to file a claim. I’ve found that if you’re fair and don’t nickel/dime vendors, they will gladly compensate for errors on their end.

The ultimate nightmare is a truck full of money going to the recycler. While waste is an inherent part of the printing process and will never be eliminated, it’s one of the things within our control to limit. Until the whole team gets onboard and understands that waste hurts everyone in the company, you will not have an effective waste plan.

Controlling Waste

Now let’s load our rolls on press. If you have ground level reel stands, “spider” type reels below press level, or raise your rolls with a hoist, the process is similar just lift them and load them. This is perhaps the last place that I’ll claim the human element on. If you don’t load rolls carefully, you will bump the edges and end up having to trim nicks or slab paper off. Either way, it’s avoidable if you slow down and be accountable for your actions.

Just the savings to this point in white waste can make a significant difference, and it is all 100 percent within our control. It’s so important to get this through to your folks. When you get them treating waste like it’s coming out of their personal pockets (and it truly is) and spending the company’s money like they’re signing the checks, that is when you can be successful.

The next step comes from printed waste: on-press. From here on out, it depends on equipment, plates, paper grain/strength, color complexity and operator skill.

A lot of press operators aren’t going to like this part because it takes a lot of effort and can mean more work. There are arguments to the side of the additional time spent offsets potential savings. While I don’t buy that one bit, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Each roll of newsprint represents a significant investment by the company. The more quality printed product we send out the door the better chance of maintaining the profitability and sustainability of our industry.

The Right Way: Start-up with the least expensive paper you have. i.e. if you have a run on 50# alternative offset or hi-brite, start-up with a butt roll of newsprint. Make sure to program in your presets (if you have a system) or at the very least take a shot at some manual common sense presetting of ink keys. Now fire up that press, turn on your impressions, and get some ink and water on the sheet. Once you have a reasonable image and can identify registration and basic ink lay-down, shut down. At this point go through the paper and fine-tune your ink coverage from presets and align registration (sidelay/comps) to your best experienced guess. At this stage make the decision if you are close enough to paste in good paper or if you need to do one more quick start-up to get closer. This is the right way to start-up a run and will absolutely minimize start-up waste.

The Wrong Way: This is the preference of a lot of operators. Why, because it’s better? No, because it’s easier. I once had a press operator who set everything on the fly, and it drove me crazy. Start-up the press, usually at full bore, then proceed to start setting ink/water and registration as papers (usually hi-brite) steadily drop into the waste bin like dollar bills. He’d run about twice the waste of other operators, but nonetheless, he insisted his way was the best. All the retraining in the world just led to more frustration on both sides. Whenever we tried to change his ways, it simply didn’t work. It was the way he was brought up and trained on press. Eventually, we had to take him out of the mix by putting him on with a supervisor who took charge and did things the right way.

Once you’re up and running, a lot depends on the quality of your pasters. Whatever pattern you have found works best for you, make sure your operators are consistent and do them right. I’m normally not mean-spirited, but in one property, I was frustrated at the reel room operators who seemed to take every shortcut they could and just didn’t share the same concept of a perfect paster pattern as I did. As a result, I walked the line every night and joyfully (I’m ashamed to say) popped every poorly constructed paster with my hand. It didn’t take long for them to catch on and the quality of the patterns quickly improved .

One lost paster, one wrap, and all conservation efforts on the front-end go down the drain in a flash. I firmly believe the person making pasters can be the key to achieving or missing your waste goals.

Run your roll down as low as you feel safe and keep a close eye on registration while you’re doing so. I usually like to set for about .25 to .50 inches off the core. If you run off the core, it’s going to cost time rewebbing and a lot of aggravation, so be careful. I realize with the various runs and not always being able to end the run perfectly, we’ll have larger cores that are not practical to put back on press. If you’ve got a rewinder, use every bit you can; otherwise, I can normally live with about 2.5 to 3 inches of waste on a roll if the run ends there. Putting butts back on press with less than 2.5 inches usually doesn’t carry much benefit.

There’s an almost endless list of what we can do to control waste, yet I constantly see unacceptable numbers at some sites until processes are cleaned-up and people become vested in making a difference. It’s important to understand where the holes are in your program by tracking web breaks and then doing the necessary research to correct the issues.

There’s really very little mystery to cutting waste. There’s not a lot new outside of the processes we already know and the common sense we apply. The answers to managing waste are within our immediate control if we simply take the time and employ the necessary effort and follow through.

Jerry Simpkins is vice president of the West Texas Printing Center with Morris Printing Services, LLC in Lubbock, Texas. Contact him on or at

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One thought on “Production: Managing Paper Waste, Our Most Precious and Expensive Commodity

  • September 23, 2019 at 10:56 am

    I like how you said the rolls should be as pristine as when they came off the truck. Preserving your paper can save a lot of waste and money. I’ll make sure that I handle my paper carefully.


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