Sustainable Waste | The secret life of paper

Did you like yesterday’s post about the secret life of mobile phones?  I have today a post of the same type about the life of paper. It’s really good and being DMU a university I think it’s really important to understand the importance of recycling and not wasting paper.

Starting again with a video, by, the study try to give an answer to some of the central questions about the issue of paper recycling and disposal:

  1. What impact paper and paper-making has on the environment?
  2. Why should we change our paper habits?
  3. What can we do to reduce our paper footprint?
  4. How is paper production related to forest destruction and global warming?
  5. Why is recycling and buying recycled paper important?

1. What impact paper and paper-making has on the environment?

Paper-making process in an optimal situation in which raw fiber comes from sustainably managed forests and recycled paper is repulped and used to manufacture new paper products.

In the life-cycle of paper three are the steps that have the highest negative environmental impact: harvesting the tree for the fiber, processing the wood fiber into pulp, disposing of paper products at the end of their life. Therefore ideal paper life cycle is the one showed in the above image: (1) virgin fiber from sustainably managed forests; (2) paper is recycled as much as possible; (3) recycled paper is repulped and used to manufacture new paper products. In this way we would save trees, reduce waste in landfill, and eliminate the methane emissions created by the decomposition of paper in landfill. Unfortunately, this ideal picture is not the most widespread one. The amount of fiber coming from sustainably managed forests is increasing, but it’s still low, and paper products contain far less recycled paper than they could (should?!?).

2. Why should we change our paper habits?

In 2006, the US consumed 99,778,437 tons of paper, that is the equivalent to 663 pounds per person. Only the 10% [more or less] of the paper consumed every year is actually used, in the sense that it is preserved in the form of books, magazines, and so on. The rest become parts of the waste stream. Of this around the 50% is recycled. Although this is good, we can do better. Estimation from the Bureau of International Recycling indicates that about 81% of paper discarded in a year can be recycled. The other 19% is either destroyed in use (e.g., toilet paper and cigarette paper) or contaminated (e.g., food wrappings and containers).

3. What can we do to reduce our paper footprint?

We can be responsible citizen [and therefore responsible consumers] and purchase environmentally friendly products. These are:

  • to recycle as much paper as we possibly can;
  • to reduce the amount of paper used [read emails, documents, etc. on screen for example and print only what is absolutely necessary]
  • to purchase paper products that contain at least 30% of recycled content for printing and copying paper;
  • to purchase products made from 100% recycled paper when they are disposable [for example toilet paper]
  • to not purchase kitchen paper towels, there are many alternatives to their use;
  • to purchase paper produced without chlorine bleach;
  • when needed, to purchase paper with virgin fiber from sustainably managed forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council

4. How is paper production related to forest destruction and global warming?

Today the paper industry rely primarily on virgin wood fiber. The large part of this wood comes from forests that have been growing on our planet for many many years, for example the boreal forest in Northern Canada. In some areas moreover, trees are chopped where it is illegal to do so, in addition to being unsustainable. Forests are important for the climate and for our global ecosystem because they are protectors of our stability and they provide oxygen and store carbon. The unsustainable use of wood coming from forests can degrade our ecosystem, harnessing not only plants, but also the animals that in those habitats are used to live. As I said, trees store carbon dioxide as a result of the photosynthesis process, producing in exchange oxygen. According to a UN report published in 2006, forests store 312 billions tons of carbon in their biomass, plus all the carbon that is stored in the forest soil, or the deadwood, etc. Therefore destroying forests has a huge impact on the environment. UN estimates that the continuous destruction of forests is adding 2.2 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of what US emits annually. It is a diffuse belief among scientists that preserving and restoring forests can offer one of the cheapest and most effective ways to fight climate change [and that is how the offsetting scheme works].

5. Why is recycling and buying recycled paper important?

Let consider for example toilet paper. What is the need to use virgin wood fiber to create the most disposable existing product? Why can all the paper used to produce it come from recycling? Let’s consider a couple of figures [in case you’ve missed them from the video]:

If every US household replaced just 1 roll of virgin fiber toilet paper with 100% recycled one…

…. we could save 330.000 trees ….

…. we could save 106.000.000 gallons of wastewater ….

…. we could reduce 25.000 pounds of greenhouse gases ….


And encourage others to do the same!


Informic The Secret Life of Paper. The Secret Life Series.


3 commenti Aggiungi il tuo

  1. I do consider all the ideas you have presented in
    your post. They’re really convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too brief for novices. Could you please lengthen them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.

    Mi piace

    1. Monica Pianosi ha detto:

      Thank you for your comments. I am always wondering about how long and how detailed my post should be. And the outcome of my thinking was to keep it short and simple so that readers won’t be overwhelmed with the amount of information. Nonetheless it is really important to me to know that you’d like to read more and in more detail.
      It is a great feedback!
      Thank you again and I hope you’ll come back some times!

      Mi piace


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