There are 420,000,000 tons of paper and cardboard produced worldwide each year. Every hour, this equates to two sheets of paper for every person on Earth.
We are not yet a truly paperless society. The demand for paper is predicted to quadruple by 2030, compared to 2005 hence, the environmental impacts of paper.
Countries use paper in very different ways. A person uses 200–250 kg of paper per year in the USA, Japan, and Europe. The amount is five kilograms in India and less than one kilogram in several other nations.
Two to three times the weight of trees are needed to produce 1 kilogram of paper. The world would run out of trees if every person used 200 kg of paper annually.
Paper is now a product that is both helpful and wasteful. The printing press, mechanical wood harvesting, and technological advancements all made throwaway paper more accessible to the general public.
This led to a sharp rise in waste production and consumption, both of which increased the amount of paper pollution. In the US alone, paper waste is thought to make up 40% of garbage.
Table of Contents
Environmental Impacts of Paper and Its Production
Our culture flourished because of the invention of paper. Paper has always been essential, even in the digital age. From the Egyptians and Romans to our civilization, it gave rise to money, bureaucracy, and contemporary communication and even prompted fear about technological progress.
Although paper is still essential to our daily lives, it is impossible to overlook its detrimental effects.
- Paper Production Requires a Lot of Trees
- Disrupted Livelihoods
- Paper Production Causes Air Pollution
- Water Pollution
- Chlorine and Chlorine-Based Materials
- Produces Multiple Solid Waste
- Energy Consumption
- Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Climate Change
- Energy Use
1. Paper Production Requires a Lot of Trees
Trees are harvested for their cellulose fibers, which are the main source material used to make paper products.
Paper makers use thirty-five percent of the trees that are harvested. Consider the development of residences and structures in your neighborhood. Consider that one-third more of the lumber used has been utilized for paper alone.
We use paper daily for a variety of purposes, including notebooks, newspapers, laminated documents, and even toilet paper. Regretfully, human needs necessitate the annual felling of billions of trees, speeding up the process of deforestation in our world.
On the grounds where they harvest trees, forestry, and manufacturing enterprises occasionally plant fresh seedlings—a practice known as “managed forests.”
To produce goods like pulp, paper, and lumber, logging accounted for over 70% of the degradation that occurred in Asia and Latin America.
2. Disrupted Livelihoods
Certain plantation and forestry developments have been linked to serious social unrest, particularly in regions of the world with poor land tenure regimes. This is because local or Indigenous populations have objected to the issuance of forest licenses over territories they believe to be their ancestral lands.
In Sumatra, Indonesia, disputes between pulp corporations and the local population have been particularly serious.
3. Paper Production Causes Air Pollution
One of the major sources of environmental pollution in the world is the pulp and paper industry. Twenty percent of all industrial discharges of toxic waste into the air occur as a result of one industry alone in the USA.
Different harmful gases are released from the plants during the manufacture of paper. Nitrogen oxide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrates, mercury, benzene, methanol, volatile organic compounds, and chloroform are among these gases.
Acid rain is often caused by three gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO), and nitrogen dioxide (NO). There are hazardous effects of acid rain on the ecosystem.
It directly affects soil, forests, and water. It has an impact on crop productivity as well. Subsequently, carbon dioxide is the primary contributor to global warming.
4. Water Pollution
The manufacture of pulp and paper pollutes water in addition to the air. In the USA, it is solely to blame for 9 % of all industrial leaks of hazardous material into waterways.
The pulp and paper mills generate solids, nutrients, and dissolved materials such as lignin. They mingle with adjacent bodies of water. When making paper, common chemicals used are bleach and chlorine.
These harmful substances that are utilized to make paper-based products end up in streams and water sources. Insects and beneficial bacteria are killed by these contaminants in the water. These pollutants also harm water plants.
Furthermore, the manufacture of paper wastes a tremendous amount of water. To make one kilogram of paper, for instance, around 324 gallons of water are required. Ten liters of water are needed to make one A4 sheet of paper!
5. Chlorine and Chlorine-Based Materials
Chlorine and its derivatives are used to bleach wood pulp. Dioxins, a persistent and extremely harmful contaminant, were first created in large quantities by companies using elemental chlorine.
Nonetheless, this was lessened in the 1990s when elemental chlorine was replaced with total chlorine-free and elemental chlorine-free in the pulp bleaching process.
6. Produces Multiple Solid Waste
The solid waste from the production of paper contaminates water. Millions of individuals discard paper-based products every day. It is terrible that some of these waste materials wind up in landfills because paper-based products may have their lifespan extended by recycling.
Locally, solid paper waste makes up about 17% of landfill space worldwide. Paper products account for roughly 40% of garbage in the United States, according to studies, and paper waste requires a lot of room. Such vast amounts of waste are stored even on agricultural land.
7. Energy Consumption
Papermaking requires a lot of energy, requiring mills to construct their power plants or consume a lot of electricity from public utilities.
This plays a major role in both the hidden harms from fuel extraction at the source and the air pollution in our area (oil drilling, oil spills, coal mining, pipelines, transmission lines, etc.).
8. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
We are aware that the manufacture of paper produces waste and harmful gases. Among these gases are several greenhouse gases (GHG). Research indicates that pulp and paper mills account for around 21% of these greenhouse gas emissions.
The majority of emissions occur when paper is being produced. Deforestation and landfill emissions account for the remaining greenhouse gas emissions.
9. Climate Change
Because deep peatlands converted to pulp plantations release carbon into the atmosphere, the forest impacts of unsustainable pulpwood production may hurt the climate.
Furthermore, one of the sectors in the world that uses the most energy and water is the pulp and paper industry. While some of the waste products produced by paper mills are used as fuel, the pollutants and pollution produced by these facilities can be substantial.
The energy produced to run the mills accounts for the majority of greenhouse gases released during the pulp and paper manufacturing process.
10. Energy Use
Did you know that the world’s fifth-largest consumer of energy resources is the pulp and paper industry?
It consumes between 4 and 5 percent of global energy. In addition, producing paper-based goods for the world’s expanding population requires tons of water and billions of trees.
Trees are the main source of raw materials (pulpwood). It takes years for saplings to mature into trees, even if producers of paper goods plant new trees to offset the effects of deforestation.
Furthermore, resources are needed in addition to trees. To power their operations, manufacturers also use a variety of energy sources, including electricity, gas, and oil.
You can increase efficiency, save money, and lessen the negative effects of paper use on the environment. The majority of individuals are unaware of the ease with which becoming paperless in the workplace is now possible, nor of the benefits it can offer to an organization’s financial performance. The effects are profound.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.