Most people tend not to think much about where the paper in their notebooks or office printer trays comes from. But paper, in all its various forms, effects the environment in a pretty big way. That's because traditional paper is made from wood pulp. That pulp comes from freshly cut trees, around 16 percent are farmed, according to the Ecology Global Network. Cutting wild trees for paper production poses obvious problems, including loss of habitat for wildlife.
One must also consider the amount of land and energy it takes to harvest farmed trees for paper production. Farms of any kind take up valuable land that could be dedicated to much-needed wildlife habitats. The energy needed to cut and process trees into paper releases CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to the buildup of greenhouse gasses, which exacerbate climate change. Yet the world consumes around 300 million tons of paper each year. Luckily, though its use is not yet widespread, an alternative to traditional paper exists, and its carbon footprint is much smaller than that of traditional paper.
What qualifies as "eco-friendly" when it comes to paper?
Eco-friendly paper, is exactly what its name implies: A greener version of traditional paper, with a smaller carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. There are two main kinds of eco-friendly paper. The first is recycled paper. The second is FSC Certified paper. Integrating either into your home or office is a great move for the environment. Depending on your location, you may be able to find eco-friendly paper at an office supply store close by. If not, both varieties can easily be found online.
What are the benefits of recycled paper?
Recycled paper is made from post-consumer waste rather than wood pulp from freshly cut trees. Paper products, from packaging to old notebooks, can be recycled into this type of paper. It's easy to see how widespread recycling of paper products could help to reduce deforestation, by creating more recycled paper that doesn't require fresh trees. Reducing deforestation reduces habitat loss for wildlife, and keeps more oxygen in the atmosphere.
Because trees help to filter particulates from the air, more trees also means less pollution on a global scale. But according to The Guardian, recycling paper can do even more than save trees. In fact, recycling roughly one ton of paper reduces greenhouse gas emissions by one ton of carbon equivalent, and saves around 7,000 gallons of water. By using recycled paper, you are taking advantage of all the good that comes from recycling paper products.
When searching for recycled paper, be aware that most varieties are not made with 100 percent post consumer materials, which means that some fresh trees are still used in the paper's production. However, manufacturers are required to list the percentage of recycled materials in their paper. This information will be printed on the paper's packaging, so be sure to always check for it, and strive to use recycled paper that is made with the highest percentage of recycled materials (as close to 100 percent) as possible.
What are the benefits of FSC certified paper?
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which describes itself as a "group of businesses, environmentalists and community leaders," is a well-respected not-for-profit which aims to protect the world's forests by overseeing and improving timber production. The FSC has worked with key players in the timber industry to inspect and track timber and pulp through production chains, and ensure that more forests are managed in a sustainable way. Any paper or wood products certified by the FSC were created with sustainable practices.
The FSC also considers the ethical treatment of people in the production of timber. Companies which displace indigenous people in the production of their timber, for example, will not be certified. So far, the FSC has certified around 174 million hectares (429 million acres) of forests worldwide.
Paper that is FSC certified will be clearly labeled as such. Some businesses may hesitate to use recycled paper, since its texture and appearance can differ slightly from traditional paper. But FSC certified paper is indistinguishable from traditional paper, and thus may prove to have a wider appeal, especially in the corporate world.
When in doubt, seek out both.
Some FSC certified paper is also made, at least in part, from post-consumer materials. With this kind of paper, you can have the best of both words, ensuring that recyclables were used to produce the paper and that whatever fresh trees were used in its production were sustainably harvested. Some FSC certified paper is even made in part from non-wood materials, such as wheat straw. Such paper can further reduce the number of fresh trees needed for paper production.
Taking the time to spread the word about recycled and FSC certified paper, or encouraging your place of business to adopt such paper for their everyday printing needs, can save trees, decrease pollution, save water, decrease carbon emissions, and ensure that more forests are sustainably managed.