Top 9 Environmental Reasons to go Paperless

In this era where concerns have been raised on depleting forest resources, there are so many environmental reasons to go paperless. These reasons when carefully considered are beneficial to us.

It is somewhat surprising that despite digitization and technological advancement, a lot of businesses, institutions, and individuals still depend on the use of paper for their daily activities.

The use of paper has numerous impacts on us humans and the environment at large. Paper is not reliable, is susceptible to damage from fire, water, age; it occupies office space; attracts termites, roaches and rats; accumulates dust particles; contributes to solid wastes in the environment and is one of the reasons why deforestation may never come to an end.

Before we go ahead to give the top 9 environmental reasons to go paperless, let us have a brief look into the history of paper and the papermaking processes

Paper is an end product of chemical or mechanical processes through which cellulose fibres derived from wood, rags, grasses, or other vegetable sources in water are converted to a thin sheet.

Paper is made from materials such as cotton, wheat straw, sugar cane waste, flax, bamboo, wood, linen rags, and hemp. Paper fibre comes majorly from wood and others from recycled paper products. For paper made from wood, fibre is gotten from trees such as Spruce, Pine, Fir, Larch, Hemlock, Eucalyptus, and Aspen.

Natural fibres such as cotton are also used in papermaking. Cotton is even considered to be durable. This makes it suitable for documents that need to be archived. Other fibres can be extracted from recycled paper and sawdust.

The use of paper dates back to early 105 CE. It was introduced in east Asia by Cai Lun, the Han court eunuch. During this early period of papermaking, fibre was obtained from recycled fibres. The recycled fibres came from used textiles, called rags. These rags were from hemp, linen, and cotton. It was in the year 1943 that wood pulp was introduced into paper production.

Countries differ in their use of paper. Some countries consume more paper than others. An average person in the USA, Japan, and Europe use between 200 and 250 kilos of paper on a yearly basis. In India, an average citizen uses 5 kilos of paper. In other countries, an average citizen could use less than 1 kilo of paper.

Top 9 Environmental Reasons to go Paperless

One will not be wrong to say that there are a thousand and more environmental reasons to go paperless.

Research shows that about 400 million metric tons of paper are produced and consumed annually, worldwide. The United States of America, which makes up not more than five percent of the world population uses one-third of the world’s paper. This amounts to the logging of about 68 million trees every year.

Going paperless is a key phrase of the digital era that is sung as a song by proponents of environmental sustainability. Going paperless simply refers to the use of alternative documentation formats such as electronic format. It also refers to the process of shifting all documentation, files, and records to a digital format in office environments.

Below is a list of the top 9 environmental reasons to go paperless

  • Less Deforestation
  • Reduction in Rate of Biodiversity Loss
  • Reduction in Carbon IV Oxide Emissions
  • Saves Cost
  • Less Paper Wastes
  • Less Toxic Chemicals in the Environment
  • Reduction in Air Pollution
  • Compliance with regulations
  • Saves Resources

1. Less Deforestation

It takes about 100 years to grow a single forest tree into maturity. This single tree can also produce an average of 17 reams of paper.

One of the important environmental reasons to go paperless is that going paperless reduces the rate of deforestation. Paper production from wood requires cutting down of trees.

In the past forty years, global deforestation has increased to about 400 percent. From 2001 to 2018, a total of 3,610,000 square kilometers of tree cover were lost globally.

As of 2018, Brazil had lost 1.35 million hectares; DR Congo, 0.481 million hectares; Indonesia, 0.340 million hectares; Columbia, 0.177 million hectares and Bolivia, 0.155 million hectares of their primary rainforests.

This rate of deforestation is enough (even if it is the only one among others) environmental reasons to go paperless because 35 percent of these trees go into paper making. Also, more than 50% of the fiber used in making paper comes from virgin forests.

In fact, the best parts of these trees are used for construction, and less desirable portions are used in pulp. As stated in the introductory paragraph, 68 million trees get the ax in the US in order to produce enough paper for a year.

If there is a change to the use of paper alternatives, these 68 million trees and more will remain alive in our forests and provide their usual ecosystem services. Some of these include the provision of shelter for forest animals, oxygen and water vapour in the atmosphere, and canopies to soil surfaces.

2. Reduction in Rate of Biodiversity Loss

Aside from the loss of forest tree species, the rate of biodiversity loss is part of the environmental reasons to go paperless.

Forests are homes for over seventy percent of terrestrial animals. When these tree canopies are lost to paper factories, the wildlife is lost.

Some of the organisms affected migrate to other habitats. Others are unfortunate and do not survive. They die and some go into extinction

About 50,000 orangutans died in the last 50 years. This is one of the other species that have been lost to deforestation. This incident alone makes up substantial environmental reasons to go paperless.

3. Reduction in Carbon IV Oxide Emission

Trees serve as carbon sinks. The average tree can absorb around a ton- 2,000 lbs- of C02 in its lifetime. When this tree is cut down and used for paper making, an equal and even more quantity of Carbon IV oxide find their way into the atmosphere.

Cutting down trees in order to produce paper adds more Carbon IV Oxide into the environment than all cars and trucks on the world’s roads.

Since 2000, deforestation has added 98.7Gt to global CO2 emissions. In 2017, it added about 7.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

In order to ensure that these trees have to remain in their natural environment. This invariably demands the use of paper alternatives or simply going paperless.

4. Saves Cost

Paperless faxing and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software save organizations cost on phone lines, data entry, ink, paper, and associated labor costs. With Paperless Productivity, companies will never lose a document again. This is of huge economic benefit to the individual or organization and can be counted among the  good environmental reasons to go paperless

5. Less Paper Waste

Paper Wastes are the major forms of waste generated in an office that has not put into consideration environmental reasons to go paperless. Paper wastes account for 71.6 million tons of paper generated in the USA. This makes up 40% of total waste produced in the United States annually.

To ensure that fewer paper wastes go into the environment, documents should be in PDF format and saved to the internet cloud.

Going paperless will simply reduce the volume of waste generated by an individual, organization, and nation annually.

6. Less Toxic Chemicals in the Environment

Paper production requires the use of certain chemicals. These chemicals are used in various stages such as the Kraft process, deinking and bleaching.

About 200 chemicals can be used in papermaking. Examples include Caustic soda, sodium sulfide, Sulfurous acid, Sodium dithionite, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, sodium silicate, EDTA, DPTA, etc.

These chemicals, when released, undergo reactions that produce more chemicals toxic to humans and other organisms in the environment. An example is a chlorine, used in bleaching pulp. Chlorine produces and releases into the environment large amounts of chlorinated compounds such as dioxins.

These chlorinated dioxins hamper human reproduction, immunity, and development. They are also carcinogenic and are recognized as persistent organic pollutants and regulated by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Printers and ink also contain potentially harmful chemicals that, if disposed of improperly, pollute water and soil and contribute to the spread of ecological damage.

This is among the compelling environmental reasons to go paperless. Going paperless will limit the presence of these chemicals in the environment.

7. Reduction in Air Pollution

One important one among other environmental reasons to go paperless is the reduction in atmospheric pollution associated with paper manufacturing. Machinery used in paper production releases CO2 into the environment. For a tonne of paper produced, more than 1.5 tonnes of CO2 goes into the atmosphere.

Air pollutants released during paper manufacturing aside from Carbon IV Oxide are Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Sulfur dioxide (SO2). This is a large contributor to acid rain and greenhouse gasses. During production also, hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, and other volatile sulfur compounds are released into the environment.

Transportation systems used in conveying paper throughout the paper production line also contribute to air pollution. Most of them run on fossil fuels and release fumes from their exhaust pipes while on transit.

Going paperless is a good way to prevent emissions coming from these sources.

8. Compliance with Environmental Regulations

There are a lot of environmental regulations on deforestation, effluent release, waste reduction, and lots more. Going paperless saves the environment of all wastes and toxic substances derived from paper production.

Every organization works towards compliance with local and international regulations. Going paperless is one sure way to achieve this.

Also, going paperless helps individuals and groups comply with regulations such as the US Sustainable Forestry Standard Initiative; the international, environmental management standard ISO 14001, Forest Sustainable Council Standard FSC

9. Saves Resources

The use of paper consumes resources such as water, energy, oil, trees, money, and time.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, producing 10 million pages of paper costs an estimate of 2,500 trees,  56,000 gallons of oil, 450 cubic yards of landfill space, and 595,000 KW (kilowatts) of energy.

The pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy. This accounts for four percent of all energy needs in the world.

It is difficult to recycle and almost impossible to reuse water used in paper production. Water used for this purpose is usually gotten from underground water sources. This leads to depletion of groundwater and a fall in the water table. This is a cause of famine in some areas.

According to Professor Benjamin Sovacoo of Aarhus University, Denmark.”There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today”.

Reduction in the rate of depletion of these resources is among the important environmental reasons to go paperless.


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