300 Million Tons of Paper Every Year!

In a silent office I tried to bite my tongue when I looked inside the recycling bin next to the printer. I couldn’t hold it in, there was so much paper in there with hardly any typing on it, and all of it was one sided. I started digging paper out of the bin until I had a huge pile of scrap paper at my desk that I could use for a variety of reasons including printing. The office I was in does not buy recycled paper, so I set out to investigate what that paper really entails.

The world uses about 300 million tons of paper each year, with the U.S. accounting for 30 percent. Bulk paper comes in boxes that contain individually wrapped reams and each ream contains about 500 sheets, which uses about 6 percent of one tree to make. One virgin tree makes about 16.5 reams of copy paper or about 8,250+ sheets. That one mature tree in a healthy ecosystem absorbs the same amount of CO2 produced by a car driven 26,000 miles.

When I started to question the people in the office, one of the responses I received was “But the paper companies plant trees?!” Some do. But the importance of a tree goes beyond replanting another in its place. Most trees used for paper products are produced on monoculture farms that rotate about every 20-25 years. Mature forests take hundreds of years to grow into healthy biodiverse ecosystems containing a variety of plant and animal species. Many species are lost when areas are cleaned out to plant tree plantations. Planting one tree to grow for 25 years does not replace a mature forest. In Canada, about 90 percent of trees harvested come from old growth forests.

Paper and the environmentNot all paper is created equal. From receipt paper to cardboard, there are many varieties that stem from our trees. Recyclebank.com is a great site to further investigate where paper comes from, types of paper, deforestation and more. Paper can be recycled about five to seven times, and every process makes the fibers smaller. The best way to conserve trees and paper is to buy 100 percent post consumer recycled paper or alternative fibers (such as hemp), and avoid virgin materials. Learn to look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label on all paper products. The FSC label “ensures that forests are well managed, habitats are protected and local communities’ rights are respected.”

Next set your computer defaults. Set your computer to print on both sides of the paper, single space, set your margins to one half an inch on all documents and utilize either Times New Roman or Arial fonts that maximize paper space. Save paper and consequentially save money — what will your office do with the extra cash?

Utilize your electronics. Next time you need to print to save a copy, such as a bill receipt, make an electronic version instead. Take a screenshot, save as a PDF and manage your receipts in a virtual folder rather than a paper version. Speaking of electronics, choose an e-reader over a paper book. As Slate Magazine put it, e-readers are the cloth diapers of books. Although an e-reader takes more energy and resources to manufacture, every time you download a book instead of buying a resource-dependent, chemically processed book, you are conserving more paper and water. E-readers should be used often and life span extended, but estimates show the carbon emitted over the life of the device is offset after the first year of use. If you love the feel of the book in your hands, visit one of the 29 locations of our Dallas Public Library system. Or buy your book second hand from a local used book store in our area.

I’m not saying don’t ever use paper, but do be mindful of your paper use. After reading this article in a printed newspaper, make sure you find the recycle bin and check out our online version at KatyTrailWeekly.com! Don’t forget that recycling is an energy-intensive process as well. Limit the paper you do use first, before your last option is to recycle it.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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