A MILLENNIUM UPDATE
The history of papermaking dates back to China nearly two millennia ago.
Paper was made from a variety of materials like cloth, rice straw,bamboo,bark, hemp, old rags and other materials. Industrial expansion in themid-1800's brought about the development of chemical pulping methodswhichfound a plentiful source of fiber in the trees of the forests. Todaythegrowing use of paper and paper products is inexorably linked toenvironmental and human health.
The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), the U.S. paperindustryassociation, says that paper is being ever increasingly recovered forrecycling through the years and expects to reach an impressive 50%recoveryrate in the U.S. early in the next millennium. Assuming that thisinformation is factual, does it indicate an improving environmentaltrend?
PAPER USE vs. RECOVERY
According to the World Watch Institute's 1999 report Vital Signs, worldpaper consumption continues to rise. Since 1950, paper production hasincreased more than six times and consumption leapt from approximately40pounds to 112 pounds per capita. By 2010, production is expected toreach396 million tons with a per person use of nearly 128 pounds per year.U.S.recycling rates have seen a major upsurge in the last two decades, which theoretically should have reduced the demand for wood pulp, but theconstantly increasing rate of paper consumption has kept the pressure on forests. In 1996, Conservatree, a nonprofit organization that publishes information about environmentally sound papers on the Internet, found that even though AF&PA claimed continually increasing rates of paper recovery, the amount of paper disposed inlandfills stayed about the same because the use of paper was increasingsoquickly.
TREES AND POLLUTION
About 40 percent of the world's industrial wood harvest is used to makepaper, states Vital Signs. The sources of this wood fiber are 17%old-growth forests, 54% secondary forests and 29% from tree plantations.
Aside from raw material use, the paper industry has many otherenvironmental impacts. Disruptions of wildlife habitats and soil erosion problems are apparent features of industry extraction methods. In theUnited States, for example, the industry ranks third in the release oftoxic chemicals, among which the chlorine generated dioxins are gravethreats to animal and human health. In addition, paper and paper boardaccount for more than 38% of all municipal solid waste generated in theUnited States and 30-40% in Europe.
WHAT ABOUT RECYCLED PRODUCTS?
In 1995 it was reported that paper mills had promised toinvest$10 billion in new recycling technology. Today we find that many(including International Paper's Lockhaven Unity DP line) were scrappedwhen they did not attain expected financial returns. Fortunately, othermills have risen to the recycling challenge like Rolland Paper, FortJames,and Badger. "Our best estimate is that only about 9% of the nation'scopier paper market is recycled paper," says Susan Kinsella ofConservatree.Is reaching paper sustainability in the early part of next millennium aplausible goal? Yes, but we have a long way to go.
Written by: Stephen E. Baker, GreenLine Paper Company, Inc.
Sources: Worldwatch Institute,Conservatree,American Forest & Paper Assoc.,Re-think Paper,E-Magazine, Dogwood Alliance
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