Paper Cuts: Saving Forests
Global consumption of wood fiber for papermaking could be cut by more than 50 percent, reports a new study by the Worldwatch Institute. This reduction can be achieved through a combination of trimming paper consumption in industrial countries, improving papermaking efficiency, and expanding the use of recycled and nonwood materials, according to Janet Abramovitz and Ashley Mattoon, co-authors of Paper Cuts: Recovering the Paper Landscape.
"We have the tools at hand to dramatically lessen the impact of paper on the world^s forests, as well as to reduce energy use, air and water pollution, and solid waste," said the authors. "And as businesses like Bank of America, United Parcel Service, and Proctor and Gamble have discovered, saving paper saves money too."
Global paper use has grown more than six-fold since 1950. One fifth of all wood harvested in the world ends up in paper. It takes 2 to 3.5 tons of trees to make one ton of paper. Pulp and paper is the 5th largest industrial consumer of energy in the world, using as much power to produce a ton of product as the iron and steel industry. In some countries, including the United States, paper accounts for nearly 40 percent of all municipal solid waste.
"Making paper uses more water per ton than any other product in the world," said Abramovitz. "It also produces high levels of air and water pollution-all to make a product that is usually used once and thrown away."
Papermakers can adopt proven and profitable methods of production that slash energy use and pollution. Eliminating chlorine bleaching, which is deadly to the environment and dangerous for workers, is an essential step towards producing cleaner paper and improving profitability. Scandinavia has cut chlorine from most of its production and has seen deadly dioxin levels fall significantly. In the last 25 years, many industrial countries have trimmed the amount of energy used to make a ton of paper by 20 to 50 percent (U.S. 22 percent, Japan 50 percent), and water use by even more.
"Papermakers can also incorporate more nonwood fibers, making use of a portion of the agricultural wastes that are currently burned in many places, while reducing chemical use in pulping and driving down demand for wood fiber," said Mattoon. The authors propose doubling nonwood products like wheat straw as a fiber source, and increasing the share of recycled paper for fiber from today^s 38 percent to 60 percent.
Expanding the recycling of used paper has enormous potential to bring environmental and economic benefits. Despite a tripling in the volume of paper recycled since 1975, some 57 percent of used paper is still not recycled. Because of soaring consumption, increases in the overall volume of paper waste have outpaced the growth in recycling. Each year the United States sends more paper to the landfill than is consumed by all of China (the world^s second largest paper consumer). Beyond saving trees, making new paper from old takes a fraction of the energy and chemicals used in virgin paper production.
"Recycling makes use of the ^urban forest^-the huge supply of waste paper in cities, and eases pressures on landfills and incinerators," said the authors. "Recycling and better product design can also help companies save money."
Consumer products giant Proctor and Gamble shaved the amount of paper packaging per product by 24 percent in a short time. Since nearly half of all the world^s paper goes to packaging, such savings are significant. Shipping companies such as Airborne, UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service are now using 50 to 100 percent post-consumer wastepaper for envelopes and boxes and are eliminating bleached paper. (UPS, the largest such company, ships over 3 billion packages per year.)
Computers, fax machines, and high speed printers and copiers make it possible to churn out vast quantities of paper. In the United States, the average office worker uses some 12,000 sheets of paper per year. Of the major grades of paper, printing and writing paper is both the most polluting and the fastest growing worldwide.
"While the paperless office predicted at the dawn of the computer age in the 1970s hasn^t materialized, there are clearly ways to make a less-paper office," said Abramovitz. Bank of America, the largest bank in the country, reduced its paper consumption by 25 percent in just two years with online reports and forms, email, double-sided copying, and lighter-weight papers. It also recycles 61 percent of its paper, saving about half a million dollars a year in waste hauling fees. Companies that use the Internet instead of paper for purchase orders, invoices, etc., can save $1 to $5 per page by eliminating paper and reducing labor costs and time.
There are gross inequities in access to paper. The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world^s population, consumes 30 percent of the world^s paper. Each year industrial countries use an average of 164 kilograms per person, while developing countries use just 18 kilograms per person (United States 335 kg/person/year, Japan 249, Germany 192, Brazil 39, China 27, India 4). However, usage is growing rapidly in some developing countries: between 1980 and 1997, consumption in Indonesia rose more than seven-fold, in China more than five-fold, and more than four-fold in South Korea and Thailand.
Some 80 percent of the world^s people consume less than 30 to 40 kilograms per person per year, the amount that a United Nations Environment Program report suggests is essential to meeting basic literacy and communication needs. (One kilogram of paper is roughly equal to two daily New York Times.)
"If industrial countries trimmed their paper use by 30 percent, an amount largely possible through good housekeeping alone, global consumption would fall, and developing-country consumption could rise to meet basic needs without adding to the serious global environmental burden of paper," said the authors.
NEWS FROM THE WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE: a press release on Worldwatch Paper 149, "Paper Cuts: Recovering the Paper Landscape," by Janet Abramovitz and Ashley Mattoon. This paper shows how global consumption of wood fiber for papermaking could be cut by more than 50 percent through a combination of trimming paper consumption in industrial countries, improving papermaking efficiency, and expanding the use of recycled and nonwood materials. December, 1999.