Despite the move to emails, e-books, e-billing and other electronic forms of communication, paper continues to occupy a very big part of our households. Magazines, newspapers, books, bills, notebooks, calendars, plus all types of paper boxes that most products come in, paper is still widely used, and will continue to be around for many years to come. In fact, the global paper consumption has risen by 400% over the last 40 years!
Paper is made from natural plant fibers and is typically harvested from wood, originating from tree logs, and is therefore biodegradable. This sounds like wonderful news, but it’s not that simple!
Paper production alone, negatively impacts the environment in a number of ways, polluting the water, air and land.
More than a third (35%) of all harvested trees are used to manufacture paper. While these commercial plantation forests typically consist of fast growing species, they contribute to a loss of biodiversity:
indigenous forest vegetation (natural habitat) would have been lost to deforestation to make way for the plantation;
as they are a monoculture, they do not support a diverse range of species;
cutting down trees can cause environmental disturbances that can impact soil and water quality, as well as wildlife.
Pulp and paper production is one of the heaviest industrial water consumers — it takes more water to produce a ton of paper than it does to produce any other product.
Wastewater discharged from pulp and paper mills contains high levels of organic and inorganic contaminants, including nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates that can contribute to eutrophication and algal blooms in aquatic systems. The wastewater also contains chemicals such as chlorates that arise from chlorine used during the bleaching process, as well as heavy metals that can harm aquatic life and contaminate drinking water sources.
The pulp and paper industry accounts for 4% of energy used worldwide and is the 5th largest energy consumer globally.
In 2014, more than 26% of solid municipal waste generated consisted of waste paper and cardboard, 14% of which was sent to landfills. Discarded paper often contains toxic dyes, inks and polymers that can pose a public health risk if these leach into groundwater or are incinerated, as pollutants may be ingested with drinking water or air-borne pollutants may be inhaled.
Recycling paper helps reduce the environmental impact and contributes to a more sustainable product. We can all be a part of that!
Paper can be recycled multiple times but there is a limit, which according to the Bureau of International Recycling is on average between 4-6 times. Each time paper is recycled, the fibers become shorter and are weakened, and therefore virgin pulp needs to be added during the production process to improve the quality and strength of the fiber. Mixing forest-based paper with recovered paper helps achieve a product that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.
The question then arises: “Is it ok to put already recycled paper into the paper recycling bin?”. Good news, you don’t have to bother with the quality of paper you give for recycling. The recycling plant will do the sorting and take care of that!
In any case, the more paper we recycle the more trees will be grateful, the less water and energy will be consumed; so keep up the good work!