It has got inside all the brains about the link between paper and deforestation. Whenever trees are cut on a large scale for making papers, the nature is actually weeping, who cares, right? What we want is fresh bonded or non-bonded papers. In this article, we are just exploring that link between deforestation and paper recycling. We also ought to know whether paper recycling is a solution for deforestation.
We have seen our parents and our grandparents do it. Meticulously every scrap of unwanted paper, cardboard, magazines, packaging material and once in a while the old heavy phone directory is collected and sent off to the recyclers. This helps us get rid of a lot of clutter from our homes. But in the larger sense we were told that this was benefiting the forests. Because we recycled paper fewer trees would be cut down to make new paper.
At the turn of the century with all the advancements made in cyber technology, there was hope that a ‘paperless’ office would become a reality soon. People sent letters earlier, now they send tweets texts and social media posts. Bulk documents can be sent easily through email. And electronic tablets and e-Readers are changing the reading behaviour. Books magazines and newspapers are available online.
Yet, there is no reduction in the production or use of paper. About 69 million tons of paper and paper board is used in US each year. Did you know that one person uses two sheets of paper every hour?
Paper accounts for about half of all recyclables collected in the US by weight. From the collected paper about 45% is exported and 53 % is used in the production of new paper.
To discuss if paper recycling is preventing deforestation, we must also have a glance at the paper making industry and its effects on the environment
Paper is made from trees and forests were a source of trees. Though massive deforestation occurred throughout the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, all of it was not for the paper and pulp industry alone. Much of it was to clear the land for farming purposes, to increase the habitable lands for growing settlements and cities, for the logging and timber industry and for other forest products.
Today, in the US, 40 % of industrial wood harvest goes into paper making. Paper has a high carbon footprint.
Additional impacts on the environment due to the paper manufacturing industry include:
- The energy consumption for logging, destruction of natural ecosystems, reduced water quality, soil erosion habitat loss for plants and animals and elimination of old growth forests.
- An array of chemicals such as chlorine, mercury, absorbable halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus and caustic soda are used to process fibre into pulp, resulting in pollution of air water and land.
- According to US department of energy it takes 17 watts of energy to produce on piece of paper.
- It is a water resource intensive process. According to US EPA the paper industry is largest industrial consumer of water per ton of end product.
- Effluents from paper mills contribute to severe water pollution in their areas.
As the threat of global warming looms and deforestation is numbered among the causes for it, countries have taken the initiative to restore their forests. Sustainable forest principles have been established. Two major organisations overseeing the forest industry are
- The Forest Stewardship Council – An independent, non-governmental, not for profit organisation established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests
- Sustainable Forestry Initiative – a North American based solutions oriented sustainability organisation for forest based conservation
As part of their corporate responsibility, the paper and pulp industry must be co- workers in active forestation. Forestation takes a long time therefore natural resources must be preserved. This is where paper recycling becomes a must.
Waste paper also known as secondary fibre is important in paper production in addition to fresh wood fibre, which is still a preferred raw material for North American paper mills. In paper production, waste paper constitutes 33% of the raw material used. The rest come from whole trees or plants and wood chips from sawmills.
Paper can be recycled about 5-7 times. After these many times of recycling, the fibres become weak or too short to be processed. Hence we see why virgin wood needs to be used on a continuous basis and why recycled paper can only be a part of the finished product.
The watchdog organisations now make sure that every tree that is cut down for various purposes including paper making, is replaced by new saplings. These are usually of a fast growing variety. Sustainable forestry has made dramatic impact on deforestation. Production of paper using other fibres such as bamboo, hemp, bagasse (sugarcane fibre) and straw is environmentally preferred and is beginning to increase.
Here are some facts relating waste paper recycling and the environment
- One tree is saved every time 54 kg newspaper is recycled
- Each ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees.
- A saved tree produces oxygen for three people.
- Paper produced from recycled paper consumes 64% less energy than that produced by wood fibre.
- Producing 1 ton of recycled paper saves 2.5 tons of water petroleum and 26 tons of water.
So we see how recycling paper does not prevent deforestation but it is important in the context of saving forests. Though there are opinions that not much is being done to save forests and what is being done is too slow to have an impact, there is improvement in the extent and quality of forests that have been rejuvenated in different countries.
The top ten paper producing countries are China, USA, Japan, Germany, Korea, Brazil, Finland, Sweden, Canada and Italy. Each of these countries have extensive forest cover especially consisting of the soft conifer trees that are suitable for paper making. The forest resources in all these countries particularly the US had depleted to a great extent. Yet in the last decade the paper industry in each of them has developed and increased. Their governments have approved and applied sustainable forestation methods to revive them. Leaders in the paper industry have been making improvements reduce their carbon footprint and have their operations made clean.
As we have seen recycling is a very important part of waste management and provides raw material for further production of paper. Yet it is not possible to completely satisfy the need for raw material solely by recycling. It is only one part of the solution to deforestation. The need for paper is not going to reduce anytime soon. Only consciously reducing paper consumption and paper packaging by any organisation or community will add to saving more forests.