The Paper Chase

Now think about the number of times a day you literally touch paper – newspapers, magazines, toilet paper, paper towels, cereal boxes, printer and copier paper, receipts, catalogs, junk and non-junk mail, tissues, money, shopping bags, books, napkins, labels on water bottles, canned food, and to-go packaging. I know you get the picture – we touch paper hundreds of times per day. Common thread? Every single item above comes from those trees we all love! Important fact to remember as you read on: The average American consumes more than 700 pounds of paper a year, the world’s highest per capita figure. And one other little fact I will throw in: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the paper industry ranks third after the petroleum and chemical industries in the U.S. for fossil fuel emissions.

So what does paper manufacturing have to do with fossil fuel emissions (aka “dirty air”) you might ask? The deal is that the pulp and paper industry is among the world’s largest generators of air and water pollutants, waste products, and the gases that cause climate change. It is also one of the largest users of raw materials, including fresh water, energy and forest fibers. Pause here for a moment to absorb the magnitude of the impact paper production has on earth today.

If you are a long fact finder, are still not convinced, or want to be well-informed on this important issue, please read on.

The following is information from a report published by the Environmental Paper network. You can read their entire report at www.environmentalpaper.org but PLEASE don’t print it out!

1. Forests store 50% of the world’s terrestrial carbon. (In other words, they are awfully important “carbon sinks” that hold onto pollution that would otherwise lead to global warming.)
2. Half the world’s forests have already been cleared or burned, and 80% of what’s left has been seriously degraded.
3. 42% of the industrial wood harvest is used to make paper.
4. The paper industry is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among United States manufacturing industries, and contributes 9% of the manufacturing sector’s carbon emissions.
5. Paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste (and one third of municipal landfill waste).
6. Municipal landfills account for one third of human-related methane emissions (and methane is 23-times more potent a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide).
7. If the United States cut office paper use by just 10% it would prevent the emission of 1.6 million tons of greenhouse gases — the equivalent of taking 280,000 cars off the road.
8. Compared to using virgin wood, paper made with 100% recycled content uses 44% less energy, produces 38% less greenhouse gas emissions, 41% less particulate emissions, 50% less wastewater, 49% less solid waste and — of course — 100% less wood.
9. In 2003, only 48.3% of office paper was recovered for recycling.
10. Recovered paper accounts for 37% of the U.S. pulp supply.
11. Printing and writing papers use the least amount of recycled content — just 6%. Tissues use the most, at 45%, and newsprint is not far behind, at 32%.
12. Demand for recycled paper will exceed supply by 1.5 million tons of recycled pulp per year within 10 years.
13. While the paper industry invests in new recycled newsprint and paper packaging plants in the developing world, almost none of the new printing and writing paper mills use recycled content.
14. China, India and the rest of Asia are the fastest growing per-capita users of paper, but they still rank far behind Eastern Europe and Latin America (about 100 pounds per person per year), Australia (about 300 pounds per person per year) and Western Europe (more than 400 pounds per person per year).
15. The Forest Stewardship Council’s certification of sustainable forestry practices is growing, with 50% of the paper product market share and 226 million acres accounted for. Advocates say the demand for recycled paper and sustainably harvested pulp from consumers, advertisers, magazine makers and other users of paper will yield the fastest reforms of the industry.

The very, VERY good news is there is so much you can do about your paper consumption! Just think about our mantra of being a conscious consumer who actually does want to leave the world a better place: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

REDUCE: stop your catalogs and junk mail, pay bills online; use cloth dinner napkins; use dish towels instead of paper towels; change the margins on computer settings before hitting print; don’t use paper plates; go to your public library or used bookstore to buy your books and then pass them on to friends or sell them back to where you bought them; buy either recycled or post consumer waste products whenever possible. (Post consumer waste products: the garbage that individuals routinely discard, either in a waste receptacle or a dump, or by littering, incinerating, pouring down the drain or washing into the gutter.)

REUSE: reuse paper bags; get creative about gift wrap, always print on both sides of a paper whenever you can. (Mrs. Green’s comment: you might even be so bold as to print a formal business letter on two sides. It sends a great message and we CAN change the world!), shred used office paper for packaging.

RECYCLE: how could you not? Besides recycling your newspaper and copy paper, throw everything you can in the recycle bin – like the envelopes your bills come in. Many bags, boxes and packaging materials are made with recycled content these days. Television ads have been filling the airwaves touting paper towels and toilet paper made from recycled materials.

Folks, this is an EASY one for us to get on board with. Together we can make a huge difference. Spread the good, green word.