Take a moment and look around you. You’ll see that there are a lot of things made out of paper. Paper is used for various purposes in our everyday lives. We use paper for storing information, printing books, newspapers, and magazines. Students buy books and notebooks in order to attend their classes. Each year, more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers are published (Frequent Questions | Paper Recycling | US EPA). We also use paper in our kitchen, bathroom, cars, and as packaging materials. According to the recyclopedia data, each person uses about 749 pounds of paper each year in the United States.
The per capita paper consumption in the United States is more than any country in the world. We use paper for more purposes and in many different forms, than meets the eye. Paper comes in forms of tissue paper, paper towels, toilet paper, cardboard, packaging boxes, inserts in your shoes, and much more.
To make paper, we cut down 4 billion trees around the world each year, which accounts for 35% of the total trees cut around the world (Paper Chase | Ecology Global NetworkEcology Global Network).
The paper industry and global impacts
Although paper is never blamed for climatic changes or global warming, paper impacts the globe at every stage in its lifecycle. In fact, paper is the third or fourth largest source of industrial greenhouse gas emissions in most developed countries. The impacts of paper throughout its lifecycle are given below.
- More than 20 million trees are consumed for printing books, and about 95 million trees are consumed for newspapers, every year.
- Over 40% of the total global industrial wood harvest is used to make paper.
- Deforestation is the source of 25% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
- Paper accounts for more than half of all recyclables collected in the US, by weight. About 44 million tons of paper and paperboard were recovered in 2012—a recycling rate of about 65% (Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2012 Facts and Figures).
- The paper industry is responsible for 9% of the total emissions of carbon dioxide from manufacturing industries.
- The paper and pulp industry is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases among U.S. manufacturing industries.
- Paper makes up 26% of landfills. Degradation produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.
- Landfills are the source of 34% of methane released—the single largest source in the U.S.
(Source: The Green Press Initiative).
Although some paper comes from well managed forests, many of the trees for paper industries are sourced from illegal tree loggers who destroy forests with high conservation values. Some proposed new sites for pulp and wood plantations are also a threat to natural habitats and the world’s natural biodiversity in many places. (WWF)
Impact of the paper industry on climate
Paper industries emit greenhouse gases in the process of manufacturing paper and in the process of providing energy supply to paper plants. Greenhouse gases are mainly responsible for climatic changes and global warming. The disposal of paper also contributes to global warming. Paper emits harmful methane gas when it rots.
Impacts of the paper industry on water resources
Paper industries also pollute water resources of the world by discharging many pollutants into bodies of water. Toxic chemicals like chlorine, iodine, and sulfur dioxide, contribute to the damage of the aquatic eco-system. They also create water acidification and oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon cycle imbalances.
This is alarming to know that a large number of trees are being cut down for the paper and pulp industries. At this rate of deforestation, the world will soon face severe consequences of losing trees. There will be loss in the ecological balance, increased rate of greenhouse gases, giving rise to severe global warming and climatic changes.
You’ll be happy to know that several companies in the United States are trying to come up with alternatives to cutting down trees for making paper. There are also other options available to reduce dependence on paper based printed media.
Paper makes up 27 percent of municipal solid waste (EPA: Paper Recycling). Recycling paper and making paper from recycled materials and recycling more paper could be a common solution for saving trees and environmental impacts on the globe. Using paper made from “Post-consumer waste” or recycled paper will reduce the number of trees being cut down and used for paper. It will also save landfill space and save energy. It takes 60% less energy to produce paper from recycled materials and post-consumer waste, than to make paper from scratch, using virgin materials (EarthShare: Paper alternatives). And of course this also means that no new trees are necessary for production.
Hemp could be another alternative to cutting down trees. It grows faster and produces twice as much fiber per acre than trees. Because hemp is the same species of plant as the common street drug, marijuana, legality of hemp varies widely from state to state. Many of the states in the United States have strict regulations and restrictions about growing it.
Electronic media and paper
Electronic media and computers can be our new found ray of hope of the 21st century. Companies are shifting towards computer technology more because the number of computers and other forms of electronic devices with connectivity to the internet is growing every day.
Many of the utility companies are switching to electronic billing and electronic mailing systems instead of traditional paper mail billing, to save trees. Imagine the large volume of junk mail and flyers that come in your mail every day. When you get junk mail, it’s like cutting down trees and throwing them in the landfill. Every person in your neighborhood gets junk mail, and it wastes paper, and also energy in mail delivery.
With the boom in the computer industry and digital media, more and more people are reducing their dependency on printed media. Marketers have also found that email is a greener and more efficient choice, allowing them to save 60 to 80 percent by switching to email-based marketing strategies (Email Insider).
Computers and electronic media have also made it possible to publish books, newspapers, online magazines, catalogs, and other forms of information, without using paper. The Internet does what the printing industry does for books and newspapers, but it does it a lot faster, without wasting nearly as much energy and resources.
Although it would not be possible to stop manufacturing and using paper, we could surely try to minimize wasting paper, and try to use recycled paper, electronic forms, or alternative forms of media and file sharing systems to minimize global impacts associated with paper. Also sign up for as much paperless billing systems as possible.
Environmentalists around the world have already called for reduced paper consumption and are creating global awareness. Mass realization and awareness, and efforts from every individual, organization and government agency, are necessary. When it comes to global awareness, every one of us counts.
We’ll be posting more blogs on how you can reduce wastage and use of paper, and how you can reduce junk mails, in our later blogs, so please keeps reading our blogs. We’ll be back with another blog, until them, stay well, and don’t forget to spread the message about saving paper and the environment.
P.S: Please put down your own thoughts about this topic. Thanks for reading our blogs.