Ten Reasons To Support The Best Environmentally Made Papers Available

1. The forests

Over 40 percent of the global industrial wood harvest is pulped for paper. The last remaining old-growth forests in northern Canada, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Siberia, and other areas are now being logged for pulp wood as well as plantation conversion. At home in the southeastern United States, the world’s largest pulp producing region, an estimated 5 million acres of forests are logged for paper each year (an area the size of New Jersey).

2. Economic and human population growth

U.S. citizens consume an annual average of over 600 pounds of paper per person. Global pulp and paper consumption is predicted to rise dramatically over the next 20 years – by as much as 80 percent according to some estimates. Leading the way will be printing and writing as well as office paper grades. In The Myth of the Paperless Office (MIT Press, 2001), the authors report that the adoption of e-mail alone causes an organization to increase its paper consumption by an average of 40 percent. Any gains in production efficiencies achieved by the industry may not be enough to offset the massive growth in worldwide demand for paper in the coming decades.

3. Invisibles

Many of the impacts of modern paper production occur far beyond our visual scope and take effect cumulatively, over long periods of time. Take water, for example. The pulp and paper industry consumes more water per ton of product than any other industry. Everyday, thousands of gallons of waste water containing barely detectable but persistently toxic bleaching and pulping compounds are released from paper mills. Paper production is also energy-intensive, rivaling steel and iron in the amount of energy used per ton of product. Worldwide, it is the fifth largest consumer of energy, with significant greenhouse gases (nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides, and volatile organic compounds) resulting from this energy production.

4. Stump to dump life cycles

According to the GrassRoots Recycling Network, over half of U.S. paper travels a linear path between the forest, mills, end-users, and landfills. Landfills are the primary source of man-made, climate altering methane emissions. Because paper products are the number one component in landfills, they earn the rank as the chief culprit in methane production.

5. Inefficiencies

Producing one ton of paper from virgin wood fibers requires 2 to 3.5 tons of trees. Chipping, grinding, whitening, rinsing, and separating the useful fibers from the lignins that bind them together as tree cellulose requires water, energy, and chemicals, and generate air, water, and solid waste pollution as byproducts.

6. Recycling cuts impacts

It has been well documented that using recycled materials to produce new papers can save significant amounts of materials, water, chemicals, and energy. Nearly a ton of recovered paper can be pulped to produce a ton of recycled stock. Because recycled fibers have already been converted, reprocessing requires between 10 and 40 percent of the energy needed in virgin processing. Although I support recycling not a big fan of recycled papers the labeling and information be provided is very misleading will address this in future blogs.

7. Urban forests

New York City contains more cellulose per acre (due to paper consumption) than the Amazon rainforest, according to senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York. In fact, scrap paper is the number one export from the port of New York. Optimizing the amount of recycled materials available in urban areas around the world could allow us to shift the burden away from consuming the forests for paper products. Let’s not forget textile castaways, the original paper fiber!

8. Virgin junk mail

Each year, retailers send the equivalent of 59 catalogs for every U.S. citizen – a total of nearly 17 billion.  According to a study by Environmental Defense, only 6 out of 42 major catalog companies specify papers with significant recycled content, while most use 100 percent virgin paper. Oregon-based company worked with suppliers to source paper with at least 10 percent post-consumer content with comparable production values and at no additional costs.

9. Chlorine processing

The pulping and whitening of virgin wood fibers with chlorine bleaches (chlorine, chlorine dioxide, and sodium hypochlorite) produce hazardous byproducts, including dioxins, furans, and other absorbable organic halides. Recognizing this, the worldwide pulp and paper industry has primarily moved toward Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) processing, which cuts measurable discharges by as much 90 percent – but by no means eliminates them (unless combined with enhanced delignification technologies). The most environmentally preferable bleaching processes for virgin pulp are Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) for virgin and Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) for recycled fibers. They substitute oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, or ozone in the processing sequence.

10. Farm-raised alternatives

While industrial agriculture is not without serious environmental consequences, the use of multi-purpose fiber crops such as banana, hemp, kenaf, and flax as well as crop residues like straw, bagasse, and cotton linters, can also help to relieve pressure on forests. In general, these fibers require far less chemicals, water, and energy to process. Keeping up with the continual changes in mill ownership, grade specifications, and pulping processes is not always an easy endeavor. But as paper users and global citizens, it’s part of our duty to make the most informed purchasing decisions possible. Mills could help us by creating a standard label that clearly identifies the exact fiber contents and pulping processes. In the mean time, the onus is on the purchaser. Recycling means more than just participating in curbside and office collection programs, it requires active participation as paper buyers in all aspects of our home and work lives. This is what builds markets and will ultimately help to decrease prices and improve quality. And while maximizing recycled content should be our bottom line, we must not forget to support chlorine-free technologies, and agricultural fibers.