Is Paper Dirty or Clean? (Yet Another “How Green Is It” for Green Talk Radio)

See entire May 25, 2011 newsletter

First time getting my newsletter? Read on. Been here before? Proceed to next paragraph. I frequently find that people want simple answers to complex questions – especially as it relates to sustainable solutions and sustainability in general. For the most part – the answers are just not that simple and it’s usually about making a “greener” choice. Case in point: is paper good or bad? Does making it destroy our forests? Is it bad for the environment? Is recycled paper ALWAYS better for the environment than virgin paper? OMG – that green conundrum thing again!

First real question to ask: how many times a day do you touch something made from paper – starting with the first bathroom visit in the morning? The answer is: lots. So when my friend and major Mrs. Green supporter, Cathy Rankin (Temco Air) invited me to attend a luncheon about the printing industry and sustainability, I didn’t hesitate. It was hosted by a great locally owned business called West Press. Little did I know the places we would go learning about paper, printing and the complexity of yet another issue where facts can get in the way. Ready to get a few myths debunked?

Here goes…Does making paper destroy our forests? Not if your paper is sourced from companies that use sustainable forest management. In FACT, paper companies that use these practices plant about four trees for every one harvested. How do you know? They tell you by using little tree symbols that say things like “FSC” – Forest Stewardship Council or Rainforest Alliance or Metafore. And it’s as easy as turning over a box in the grocery store to read the label – all you have to do is look. Check out www.spicers.com for some great info about paper sourcing. Lots of great content on their website.

Are all virgin fiber papers bad? No. Again, sourcing virgin fiber paper from companies with responsible forest management practices can be as green and sustainable as using recycled content paper. Think about it – we don’t want the good guys to stop planting trees. Recycling paper for printing and writing grades can actually consume MORE energy than producing paper from virgin fibers. And besides, the forests managed responsibly create wildlife habitat for all those little critters Mrs. Green loves so much.

If paper is biodegradable in a landfill, why bother recycling? First of all, there is a HUGE demand for paper globally. Secondly, conditions in a landfill site can result in paper taking fifty years to break down and guess what folks? We are rapidly running out of landfill space. Too much trash, not enough places to put it.

Sustainable Paper Costs More. True and false. It can cost more. And if it’s produced in the USA, it probably will cost more. So then it all comes down to choices. The EPA has lots of rules and regulations governing the manufacturing of paper. I am going to go out on a limb here (pun intended) and just venture a guess that paper being imported from China might have harmed the environment at more than one place through-out the manufacturing stages. Ya think?

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it boils down to the same thing: choices. Re: the three Rs. Always remember the first R is reduce. If you don’t have to print something, don’t. Use both sides of the paper for printing whenever possible. And get rid of those paper towels! Rags work. Re: costing more, my buddy Cathy flat out said her company is more than willing to pay the additional costs for just about anything (within reason) that is made in the USA. The good news is that more and more people are feeling that way and buying American made is trending up in many sectors.