By Dan Shapley
"Think of the hundreds of times a day we touch paper -- newspapers, cereal boxes, toilet paper, water bottle labels, parking tickets, streams of catalogs and junk mail, money, tissues, books, shopping bags, receipts, napkins, printer and copier paper at home and work, magazines, to-go food packaging. This list could fill a paperback."
Put another way, the 700-pound gorilla in the room is made of paper. The average American consumes more than 700 pounds of paper a year, anyway -- that's the world's highest per capita figure.
Here are 15 more facts about the environmental impact of the paper industry, courtesy -- as is the quote above -- of The State of the Paper Industry, a report published (on-line) today by the Environmental Paper Network. That is a coalition of environmental groups that aims to minimize paper consumption, maximize recycled content, source paper fiber responsibly and employ cleaner paper production practices. (And don't miss more than a dozen tips for reducing your own paper waste at the bottom of this post.)
- 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.)
- Half the world's forests have already been cleared or burned, and 80% of what's left has been seriously degraded.
- 42% of the industrial wood harvest is used to make paper.
- 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.
- Paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste (and one third of municipal landfill waste).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- In 2003, only 48.3% of office paper was recovered for recycling.
- Recovered paper accounts for 37% of the U.S. pulp supply.
- 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%.
- Demand for recycled paper will exceed supply by 1.5 million tons of recycled pulp per year within 10 years.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
To read a copy of the report, click here. And, please, don't print it out to read it.
Tweak Computer Settings Before Hitting "Print"
Use Cloth Dinner Napkins
Shred Used Office Paper for Packaging
Rediscover Your Local Library
Reuse Paper Bags
Biodegradable Doggie Bags
Be a Post-Consumer Consumer
Pay Bills Online
Use Dish Towels Instead of Paper Towels
Take One Step Toward a Paperless Office
Save a Bird: Buy Recycled Paper
Print Both Sides Now
Paper or Plastic? Say No to Both