Picture this. You’re standing in a forest, and you chop down 4.5 trees. You take those trees home, and they’re your supply of paper for the next 12 months. That’s the average amount of paper one person will use in a year.
Let’s put that into perspective, because 4.5 trees may not seem like a lot. If there are four people in your house that’s 18 trees. If 400 people live on your street that’s 1800 trees per year. And if there are 4,000 people in your town that’s 18,000 trees per year.
Workplace paper consumption is something offices need to consider as well, with the average office worker expected to use around 10,000 sheets of paper per year, which is slightly more than one tree per worker.
Making paper has other effects on the environment, too. For example, it takes around five litres of water to produce one sheet of paper. So, if you use 10,000 sheets of paper, you’ll also be using 50,000 litres of water to produce that paper.
We’re often oblivious to how much paper we use on a daily basis. Letters in your mailbox, till receipts or worksheets your kids bring home from school.
If we’re more aware of the benefits of saving paper, we’ll be more inclined to make changes to how much we use it.
Deforestation is the process of removing trees from an area and turning the area into a place of non-forest use, such as farms or urban settlements. Much of the world’s deforestation happens in tropical rainforests, which contain ecosystems that are key to our survival.
Deforestation is usually a result of lax laws or miseducation, need for fuel, building and manufacturing (such as paper), and requirements for plantations and livestock.
14% of deforestation is done to satisfy our huge appetite for paper goods, which is around 4.1 million hectares per year, the size of The Netherlands
The result of deforestation can be catastrophic, as species become extinct, climate changes, and populations are displaced.
Supply is reduced when we cut down our demand for paper. Now, this may be a tiny percentage, but everything counts. If you can inspire someone to reduce their paper usage, there’ll be more people who are conscious about deforestation.
Well managed forests offer multiple benefits to society. Forests provide renewable energy, control floods and droughts, reduce erosion risks and protect watersheds that are a source of water.
Here’s some good news to show the people of planet earth are taking action:
We have an abundance of water on our planet, so why are there rallying calls to ‘save it?’ Because although water makes up to 75% of our planet, most of it isn’t drinkable. While 2.5% is drinkable freshwater, most of this water is stored in glaciers, so we can’t access it.
We use an astonishing amount of water to produce paper, and a large amount to recycle it, too.
If you have some close by, take a piece of paper in your hand. Have a good look at it. How much water do you think it takes to produce that single piece? Hold that thought.
An A4 piece of paper can swallow up to 20 litres of water in production. Twenty litres of water could keep a person hydrated for ten days based on the recommended daily amount.
Water is used in every stage of paper production, such as pulp making, processing, and paper manufacturing, plus the associated activities of cooking, bleaching, and washing, which is why paper production needs so much water.
Although companies plant trees to subsidise what they take, growing trees are thirsty. Also, eucalyptus trees are replanted as they grow quickly, but they drink a lot of water and can drain streams and agricultural land. Drying of the land can cause forest fires, and eucalyptus trees are what caused the Portuguese forest fires in 2017.
There are alternatives to traditional paper, like stone paper, but there are concerns with biodegradability and recycling.
In recent times, freshwater sourcing, the increasing price of energy and environmental impact and regulations have forced paper production companies to take more action.
Paper production can emit dangerous chemicals that affect the cleanliness of our air, water and land. Councils can enforce measures on those that don’t comply, such as restricted operations, stopping operations or taking steps to reduce nuisance.
A ton of paper pollutes 20 gallons of water. Wastewater can cause problems in freshwater bodies such as eutrophication which is where an overproduction of minerals results in an excessive growth of algae which causes changes to biodiversity and increased toxicity.
Discharges can also affect the colour of the water, which happened to the Tarawera River in New Zealand as it became known as the black drain.
Paper milling produces many toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. The former is a greenhouse gas that causes climate change, and all are a cause of acid rain.
Paper makes up around 26% of the total amount of waste generated in 2014 and around 14% of the total waste that goes into landfill sites. Paper waste contains toxic ink, dyes and polymers that could be carcinogenic when incinerated.
While recycling does alleviate this, we have to use energy used to transport, recycle and reuse. However, 50% less energy is used when recycling rather than using new, fresh wood for paper.
By minimising paper use, you’ll be helping to reduce the amount of pollution in our water, air and land.
Further Reading: 32 Ways to Use Less Paper & Help the Environment
Illegal logging is the plantation, harvesting and selling of timber through prohibited means and violates regulations. However, it isn’t easy to identify illegally sourced timber, so it’s often unprosecutable.
It's thought the illegal logging trade is worth around £7.7 billion per year, with much of it thought to happen in the Amazon Basin, Southeast Asia, Central Africa and Russia. However, figures are often skewed, in 2003 The Republic of Estonia declared the total at 1%, whereas the Estonian Green Movement said as much as 50%.
The consequences of illegal logging are similar to that of deforestation, loss of habitat and vital ecosystems, accelerated global warming and increased corruption, money laundering, organised crime and the abuse of human rights.
A joint study by the United Nations Environment Programme and Interpol in 2012 states that illegal logging accounts for up to 30% of the global logging trade and contributes to more than 50% of tropical deforestation in Central Africa, the Amazon Basin and South East Asia.
By saving paper, you’ll be reducing the chances of buying paper that has been part of an illegal logging operation. Look out for the Forest Stewardship Council's approval when you buy paper.
Here are some useful resources about illegal logging:
Hopefully, this blog has inspired you to either start recycling or minimise your paper use. Now, paper isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But you could start making small changes like:
Saving paper doesn't always mean recycling and managing waste, preserving what we already have works too. Instead of throwing old books away, save paper by selling them to us. We'll recirculate them, plus, it's quick, free and easy. Enter your book's ISBN into our calculator or download the app. Request your free postage and packaging, and once we've received them, we'll pay you the next day.