“Let’s save some trees.” It’s becoming a common catch-phrase in offices around the world and for good reason. From the toilet to the copy machine, we use a tremendous amount of paper every day. That paper has to be made from something and that may be leading to forest destruction.
Every person in North America will consume 500+ pounds of paper over the course of a year.
Paper Consumption Facts
Although that’s a lot of paper and the amount of forest destruction that it takes to create it may be shocking, there is some good news. Total paper consumption has been decreasing. Enhanced recycling procedures and an awareness of the issues surrounding paper consumption have helped change some habits. As the statistics show, however, despite the gains made, there is still a lot of work to do.
- 40%. That’s the percentage of the world’s industrial logging that goes toward the paper manufacturing process right now.
- Despite paper usage being reduced in North America, it is growing throughout the world. Paper is expected to exceed 50% of the world’s logging industry in the near future.
- Paper production is the third most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries. It uses 12% of the total energy in the industry sector today.
- The paper and pulp industry is the 4th largest contributor of greenhouse gas in the world right now.
- 26 million tons of paper waste will hit landfills in the United States every 12 months.
- 16% of landfill space is filled by paper products.
- When paper decomposes in a landfill, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 23x more potent than carbon dioxide.
- China and the United States are some of the top consumers globally of paper and cardboard products.
- China is currently the largest producer of paper and related products in the world, generating nearly 108 million metric tons in 2014.
We are making some progress on the usage and recycling of paper, but we all need to make a concentrated effort at enhancing paper recycling. When it comes to global warming, we’ll talk about how livestock releases methane into the atmosphere, but we rarely discuss how our habits of paper disposal are doing the same thing. 26 million tons of paper in the United States every year is creating methane. That methane goes into the air that we are all breathing. That’s a problem, whether the science of global warming is believed or not.
Why Are We Wasting So Much Paper?
- In the United States, there are 100 million different pieces of junk mail that are sent out to homes every year.
- From a global perspective, 1 out of every 5 pieces of mail that is delivered will be considered junk mail by its recipient.
- 44%. That’s the percentage of junk mail that will eventually make its way to the landfill.
- The number of unsolicited junk mail deliveries that the average American household will receive in 12 months: 848.
- 6.5 million tons of the 26 million in total that hit US landfills is directly caused by junk mail.
- It takes 100 million trees to create the amount of junk mail that is sent out to American homes every year.
- 90% of households say that they would like to see a reduction in the amount of marketing materials they receive in their mailbox.
- 92% of people discard some of their junk mail without ever looking at it.
Direct mail opportunities are often promoted as an effective marketing technique, but this isn’t always true. The average person is just going to throw away the junk mail and that often means it goes straight into the trash. There are recycling programs available for junk mail, but with the threat of identity theft, who wants to leave data out curbside when it could be stolen? Even shredding junk mail doesn’t always stop identity theft. Maybe a better solution when it comes to paper consumption would be to find better ways to utilize digital marketing efforts, such as email or content marketing, to reduce the costs of paper that will just be thrown away.
Paper Is Big Business Today
- The gross revenue of International Paper in the United States: $23.6 billion.
- 20% of the world’s population today consumes 87% of the printing and writing papers that are produced every year.
- By 2020, the paper production section is expected to have increased outputs by 77% when compared to 1995 numbers.
- 71% of the world’s paper comes from timber that has been harvested in forests instead of tree farms.
- Tree plantations have 90% fewer tree species that the forests that were cut down or manipulated to create future supplies of timber.
- More than 1.4 million hectares of natural forest have been replaced by tree farms and plantations since 1989.
- 80% of the forest fires in Indonesia in one year were set to clear land for pulpwood and palm oil production.
In our quest to make money and provide economic benefits, we’re potentially ruining the future of the planet. In British Columbia, 90% of the logging that occurs for paper needs comes from the ancient forests in the area. 40% of that ancient timber is being used for paper products. Considering temperate forests only ever accounted for 0.2% of the total biome on the planet, it is easy to see why they are becoming quickly endangered. We have two options: change our paper use habits or change our tree harvesting habits. The industry as it stands right now just isn’t sustainable for the long-term.
What Would A Switch To Recycled Paper Do?
- For each ton of recycled fiber that replaces virgin fiber for paper, the total energy consumption required by the industry drops by 27%.
- Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 47% with a switch to recycled paper fibers.
- Particulate emissions are reduced by 28% by replacing one ton of virgin fibers.
- Recycled fibers reduce solid waste by 54%.
- One ton of 30% post consumer copy paper that comes from recycled fibers saves 7.2 trees and conserves 2,100 gallons of water.
- 100% recycled post consumer copy paper saves 24 trees per ton and 7,000 gallons of water.
Is it a little more expensive to purchase recycled paper and cardboard? Yes. Will it benefit local economies and work towards a healthier planet by doing so? Yes. Every day we have choices to make. We can choose to work toward saving our forests or we can continue doing things that way we’ve always been doing them. With 92 million metric tons of paper being produced by the United States annually, the tree plantations can’t keep up with demand. This means that forests disappear and that could mean long-term consequences for all of us.