Using Recycled Paper Is Not Just About Saving Trees

In developed countries, recycled paper is very easy to find, yet not nearly enough people are making that switch. Recycled paper can save the Earth; here are some facts that reveal how and why.

words Ana Yong

Recycled paper has been around for a long time but not everyone is using it. Whether because it is perceived to be more expensive or hard to find, not many people have a liking for using recycled paper. Take, for example, the fact that magazine publishers prefer virgin paper to the recycled kind because the latter is perceived to be of an inferior type not suitable for publishing. But I am glad to say that this is changing as a large and famous magazine publisher that is National Geographic is beginning to use recycled paper for some of its magazine pages. i

Here are some facts which show without a doubt why and how using recycled paper can save the Earth.

1. 14% of all global wood harvest is used to make paper ii

Stumps of wood, leftovers from the production of paper.

As we already know, paper comes from wood which comes from trees. Consequently, deforestation is one of the biggest issues connected to using virgin paper. In addition, it takes “an average of 5 litres of water to produce one piece of A4 paper”, “50% of the waste of businesses is composed of paper”, “recycling 1 ton of paper saves around 682.5 gallons of oil, 26,500 litres of water and 17 trees”, “U.S offices use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper a year” but what we may not know is that “every tree produces enough oxygen for 3 people to breathe”. iii Just think about it, a small family of three people: father, mother and child can all survive on the oxygen generated by one tree alone. In addition, trees also absorb carbon dioxide while producing oxygen for all living things.

Of course, we all know that deforestation isn’t just about cutting down trees, it is also about damaging a whole ecosystem as “the majority of the world’s biodiversity (the huge array of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants and trees) lives in, and depends on, forests. iv

2. Waste paper rotting in landfills produces Methane gas

A scrap heap. Paper and other types of waste producing waste gases.

Methane gas is 25 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide and “paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste and 33% of municipal waste”. v Furthermore, Methane gas is able to trap heat 21 times more efficiently than Carbon Dioxide and is one of the major reasons for global warming and global climate change. vi I think this reason alone is enough to warrant the use of recycled paper more extensively.

In an undated article by the Department of Health (New York State), it was stated that “Methane and Carbon Dioxide make up 90 to 98% of landfill gas. The remaining 2 to 10% include nitrogen, oxygen, ammonia, sulfides, hydrogen and various other gases”. Moreover, “though production of these gases generally reaches a peak in five to seven years, a landfill can continue to produce gases for more than 50 years”. vii

3. Dioxin is produced in the production of paper viii

Laboratory researcher working on more effective ways to recycle paper

Just to be clear, Dioxin is a carcinogen and is toxic. According to the World Health Organization, in an article entitled “Dioxins and their effects on human health” dated 4 October 2016, “Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants” and “are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer”. In the same article, it was also stated that “Dioxins are mainly by-products of industrial processes but can also result from natural processes, such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires. Dioxins are unwanted by-products of a wide range of manufacturing processes including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides. ix

It is so easy to buy recycled paper and yet very few people are willing to try it. Based on these facts, isn’t it time that we all switched to using recycled paper?

i Recycled paper for magazines? National Geographic says yes by Medilyn Manibo, 21 July 2014

ii Paper comes from Trees… by TheWorldCounts, 13 May 2014

iii Paper comes from Trees… by TheWorldCounts, 13 May 2014

iv What is the environmental impact of deforestation for paper production? (And how can we rebalance our friendship with

trees?) by paper on the rocks (undated)

v Paper comes from Trees… by TheWorldCounts, 13 May 2014

vi Why Recycled Paper? by (Undated)

vii Important Things to Know About Landfill Gas by the Department of Health, New York State (undated)

viii Paper comes from Trees… by TheWorldCounts, 13 May 2014

ix Dioxins and their effects on human health by World Health Organization, 4 October 2016