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paper has such a long and illustrious history and it has shaped our civilisations and societies for centuries. paper has the basis of education & art and has helped spread religion too.

The first papermaking process was documented in china during the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE)

wikipedia – history of paper

being such a vital resource, you would think we would use it carefully and treat it with respect. but nothing mass produced retains its original value or sentiment, like original manuscripts vs printed books or handmade clothing vs mass produced clothing. so, this is what has happened to paper. mass produced and lost its value and we waste this valuable resource.

but we need to save paper to save the planet.

paper waste bundled  - saving paper
Photo by Bas Emmen on Unsplash

top 5 eco reasons to save & reuse paper:

  1. 14% of deforestation happens for paper and cardboard production.
  2. paper production is water intensive. An A4 piece of paper can swallow up to 20 litres of water in production.
  3. fresh paper production is very polluting. The factories emit dangerous chemicals and gases that affect the cleanliness of our air, water and land.
  4. Paper makes up around 26% of the total amount of waste generated in 2014 & around paper products make up 14% of the total waste that go into landfill sites.
  5. Paper production is the third most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries, using over 12% of all energy in the industrial sector.

paper & deforestation 🌳

picture of a cut tree. saving paper saves trees
Image by Picography from Pixabay

deforestation has many different issues from affecting the eco-system to causing wild fires. fresh paper comes from trees. this includes wild forests and managed forests. trees are cut down to make paper. this is called deforestation.

when deforestation happens, the eco-system is disrupted.

  1. the animals, birds and insects that call those trees homes are made homeless
  2. the soil is weakened causing mud slides
  3. there is nothing to absorb the carbon-dioxide and give us fresh oxygen to breathe.

deforestation generates more climate change emissions than global transport!

paper – on the rocks

managed forests – a solution to deforestation?

the solution to cutting down trees, even virgin forests is apparently to plant trees in a different plot of land as a compensation. on paper, it sounds like a good solution. the forest stewardship council is an organisation that provides certification internationally for such managed forests. Technically, they are managed plantations and not forests. but there are a huge number of issues with this approach.

the biggest issue is the problem of mono-cropping. natural wild forests are made up of different trees, plants and shrubs that co-exist. but managed forests are man-made eco-systems with just 1 or 2 varieties of trees and not necessarily trees that grow indigenously in that area. this has massive impact on the local eco-system. there is an excellent article on this topic – THE 10 WORST THINGS ABOUT THE FOREST STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL by FSC watch.

fsc-watch also pointed me in the direction of this hard-hitting documentary on the topic of deforestation and fsc standards.

water

whether you are making fresh paper or recycling paper, it consumes a lot of water. not only does paper production use water, they generate a lot of toxic chemicals waste which ends up polluting the water table. as per statistics, only 2.5% of the water on this planet is drinkable fresh water. we use this life-giving natural resource to run our industries and make goods.

pulp and paper is the 3rd largest industrial polluter of air, water and soil.

the world counts

A HIDDEN SIDE TO THE PAPER PRODUCTION AND MANAGED FORESTS IS THAT THEY PLANT TREES THAT GROW REALLY FAST AND ONE SUCH TREE IS THE EUCALYPTUS TREE. THESE TREES SUCK UP A LOT OF WATER AND DRY OUT ALL THE SURROUNDING LAND CAUSING WATER SHORTAGES IN THE REGION. BUT THESE MANAGED FORESTS ARE PRONE TO FOREST FIRES AS THE LAND IS SO DRY. ONE SUCH EXAMPLE WAS the forest fireS in portugal.

The Portuguese pulp and paper industry uses mainly eucalyptus, and is often singled out by conservationists, who consider that the proliferation of this species is one of the factors favoring wildfires, such as those that have killed more of one hundred people in 2017.

tellerreport.com

air

most traditional factories have detrimental impact on the air quality. we have seen the smoke puffing out of factories right? not much of this is good for your health. with paper production, these factories emit dust, smoke, fumes and gases which affect air quality.

the following information has been extracted directly from gov.uk website:

Emissions to air include:

  • oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur (SOx) and carbon (COx) from combustion plant or liquor burning
  • particulates and dust from combustion or paper handling
  • formaldehydes and ammonia from wet strength resins
  • solvents from cleaning or coating processes
  • chloroform from the use of chlorine compounds in bleaching
  • odorous substances from wet pulping or effluent treatment plants

Paper and cardboard production can cause significant pollution. 

gov.uk

now, we might know the implications of some of these chemicals on humans, but there hasn’t been extensive research on the health hazards posed by 1 or more combinations of these pollutants. most importantly, we don’t fully understand the implications of the pollution on the rest of the eco-system.

so with all this mind – shouldn’t we save paper and reduce our consumption? so here are tips to help you save paper.

5 tips to help save & reuse paper

  1. if you receive snail mail, check the back of the letter. usually, the back of the letter is blank. don’t throw this – use it.
    • write your shopping lists – once you are done shopping, you chuck them.
    • write your to-do lists – once crossed-off these usually end up in the recycling right?
    • give it to your kids to draw on or scribble on. we used to call it rough notebooks in india. or call it practice sheets.
    • fold the a4 in half and make them into books by stapling the centre. you can learn and discover the art of book binding. we make these books and take them with us on journeys to play tic-tac-toe and “join-the-dots” game.
    • take notes as you are on the phone or in a meeting. if you are like me, you will transcribe these into organized notes anyway on to your computer.
  2. let your bank, your subscription services, your supermarket or any other repeat senders to stop sending you mail in the first place. some are unavoidable due to legal reasons.
  3. email or call royal mail to stop sending you junk mail. there are more such organisations you can contact to reduce your junk mail. citizens advice bureau have listed them here.
  4. check all documents and proof read before you print – be it at the office or in your home. 50% of office waste that goes to the landfill is paper!
  5. print only what you need to and print double-sided wherever possible.

what about newspaper?

according a newspaper industry body, The recycled paper content of UK newspapers in 2019 was 63.2%. This means around 36% uses fresh paper. this means that a paper like the “metro” which they dish out willy-nilly for “free” at tube stations and train stations, actually comes with a massive eco-price-tag.

3 tips to save & read newspaper

  • go digital when it comes to newspapers. the membership for newspapers are well priced and you get all the same content
  • if you want to buy paper, check if they print on 100% recycled paper or not. if they don’t, write to them and tell them how important it is to you to see them shift to recycled paper.
  • don’t reach out your hand to get a free paper. boycott it and ask your friends to boycott it. in this pandemic hit world, this might be a good way to reduce germ transmission anyway.

supermarkets in america use paper bags to bag their fruit and veg. in theory, this is better than plastic bag. but there are concerns that paper bags could have a greater impact on the environment than plastic alternatives in terms of the energy use in production. the over arching principle is “single use sucks”. so, anything that cannot be used more than once or for more than 1 thing, then avoid it.

alternatives to paper bags

  • take your washable cloth bags with you when you go shopping. ask the attendant to bag your groceries into the cloth bag.
  • if you are getting your lunchtime sandwich, take a lunch box with you or your cloth bag will also work.
  • if you are buying loose fruit and veg, then take along your produce bags with you. we do a range of produce bags just for this reason.

another good way to save paper is to switch your kitchen paper roll to reusable kitchen wipes. the single-use kitchen roll or kitchen tissue usually ends up in the landfill along with other paper based products which make up for 26% of landfill waste (north america based statistic). you can read more on the topic in this blog: ocean conservancy blog

if you want to understand or read more on this topic and want to save or reuse paper, see the links below.

external resources

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