By Scott Hamilton

There is a new film called “Paper Makers” that explores the modern day story of the U.S. paper industry. In this documentary style film, you get to take a walk through the forest with Paper Makers as they discuss their industry and its close tie to nature. When I came across the reviews of the film, I found it interesting because of my involvement with the press. There are many people who falsely believe the paper industry is destroying forests and harming the environment.

Did you know that you contribute to improving our nation’s forests by supporting the paper industry? I did not, prior to exploring the facts about how the paper industry manages the forests, recycling and power consumption. The pulp and paper industry is one of a few companies that not only replace the trees they remove for paper and pulp manufacturing, but they replace nearly double the number of trees they remove. There is an industry standard to plant two trees for every tree used for pulp and paper.

As a result of the reforestation efforts of the pulp and paper industry, there are 20 percent more trees in the U.S. today than there were 50 years ago. Some of this was the result of changes brought about through the Earth Day movement that started in 1970, asking industries like the pulp and paper industry to consider the damage they create to the environment. As it turns out, the life cycle of paper products is very planet friendly.

Paper was the most recycled material in the U.S. in 2017, and recent numbers indicate that 66 percent of paper, from newsprint to copy paper, is recycled and 92 percent of cardboard containers, like cardboard shipping boxes, are recycled every year in the U.S. Paper products can be recycled between five and seven times before the fibers can no longer be used for paper. This does not mean they cannot be used for other products. Once the fibers are retired from use in paper and cardboard products, they go on to be used for things like fiber egg cartons. The industry has improved recycling every year since it set the first goals in 1990, and the recovery level of paper products for recycling has doubled since.

In the midst of COVID-19, online sales have increased and paper cups, bags and boxes have been the main answer to food and product delivery. Many environmentalists believe the over-use of paper products is causing the forests to be ravaged. It seems crazy to think that the exact opposite is happening. The increased need for packaging materials has increased the recycling rate; nearly 100 percent of all online orders are packaged in recycled materials and nearly 70 percent of these containers are recycled again by the receiver.

The paper industry works toward sustainability in other ways besides just the preservation and restoration of trees. A report in 2018 showed that the paper and pulp industry uses more renewable energy sources than any other industry, and actually produces more renewable energy than it can use, selling the excess back to the grid. Currently the paper industry is only responsible for one percent of all carbon emissions in the U.S. and has reduced its total greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent since 2005. So the next time you read the newspaper, remember to recycle it and don’t worry, paper does not kill the forest.

Until next time, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is a Senior Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to scott.hamilton@atos.net.

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