Streets of London paved with papers ... but at what price?

David Grover, a lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics argues that there is no such thing as a free paper. Press Gazette asked both News International and Associated Newspapers to respond about the impact of free newspapers on their environment.

Free London dailies are indeed free — to readers at least. The catch is that they push their disposal costs onto other groups in the city in at least two ways. First, when papers clutter our train stations and blow around as rubbish in public spaces, they degrade the visual quality of the streetscape and wider urban environment. All Londoners pay these costs.

Secondly, when papers are left behind on trains and buses, the cost of collection and disposal falls on transport operators such as TfL.

Eventually, transport users end up paying in the form of higher ticket prices. Borough residents also pay through council tax when local government must empty and dispose of the contents of teeming rubbish and recycle bins.

Let us be clear though — as businesses, the free London dailies are behaving exactly as would be expected by avoiding these kinds of costs wherever possible. They also use an innovative business model where consumers are offered entertainment in exchange for their willingness to expose themselves to advertisements. Judging by the hundreds of thousands of Londoners willing to make this trade every night, a great number of us agree that free London dailies are indeed a good deal.

But we might ask if profitable business is the same thing as modern, responsible business. It is good news that the private sector can provide consumers with services and entertainment for free. But new business models also come with new responsibilities. If free London dailies are to become truly successful businesses, they must find ways to minimise the costs burden on the rest of us.

A spokeswoman from News International responded: "thelondonpaper makes every effort to ensure it is distributed in an environmentally responsible manner and we have an ongoing dialogue with all councils where we distribute to understand their issues and work to resolve them."

Head of Associated Newspapers' free newspapers division, Steve Auckland, said: "We started working with the councillors on the whole recycling issue back in September and October. We knew we needed to make sure we got that right. We're conscious of letting people know that, when they are given the paper, [they need] to dispose of them responsibly. We'll continue to do that. We don't want a tarnished reputation.

"Westminster Council were threatening to ban the distribution of free newspapers in the borough, and we know why that happened. It was because News International wouldn't sit down and talk to them. Now they are finally doing that."

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