Sometimes, the paper industry gets a reputation for being bad for the environment. But the modern paper industry is far from destructive. In fact, the paper industry as a whole has made great strides in recent years towards sustainability, especially as renewable resources and environmentally-friendly business models become commonplace.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some common misconceptions about the paper industry and its environmental impact, and give you an inside perspective on how companies like Domtar, Verso, Sappi, International Paper, and many more are using modern techniques to minimize environmental impact and encourage a green-friendly paper industry.
Misconception 1: Making Paper Destroys Forests
This is a common misconception. Yes, it’s true that paper requires cellulose pulp and fibers from trees, and trees remain the most popular source of cellulose for paper products. However, modern paper companies are a far cry from the clear-cutting loggers of the past.
Think about it – companies like Domtar, Verso, Sappi, International Paper, and other paper companies rely on the forest for the continued success of their business. How would it be in their best interest to destroy forests with no intention of replacing the trees that are used to make paper? Sustainability of harvestable areas is crucial to the long-term survival of any paper company, and that means that sustainable, managed forests are crucial to the business model of each and every paper manufacturer.
The harvested areas for paper companies are also known as “managed forests”. Essentially, detailed models are built that allow trees to be harvested sustainably. For each tree that is cut down, several are planted or naturally regrown in its place, at a rate that keeps the environment stable.
According to the US Forest Service, over 4 million trees are planted in the United States every day. Over 1.7 million of these are planted by the paper and wood products industry, and this excludes naturally regenerated seedlings.
Overall, the forests of America are stable – over the last 100 years, there has been no significant decrease in the overall forested land, which remains near 750 million acres. Furthermore, the annual growth of forests is actually higher than in the past – 36 percent more trees are planted each year than are removed by industrial companies.
Finally, paper products are far from the most impactful resource derived from trees. Logging of old growth forests for paper products represents under 10 percent of all logging, and over 60 percent of wood harvested is used for wood products such as lumber and construction materials, not pulp or paper.
By ensuring sustainable growth, a healthy paper industry can encourage larger, healthier forests – the more paper is used, the more trees are planted, and by managing our natural resources effectively, paper companies like the ones mentioned above and many more actually help the natural world stay pristine and intact.
Misconception 2: Paper Is Not Sustainable – And Paper Companies Aren’t Playing Their Part
This is simply not true. Paper is, by default, a renewable resource, as trees can always be regrown by private companies after harvest. Trees are no different from any other crop – they can be replanted and harvested, year after year – it simply takes more time to regenerate a forest to do so.
And, as mentioned above, sustainable paper companies replant or regenerate multiple trees for each one that is harvested – ensuring that the forest remains intact, and that the natural balance of life in the ecosystem is unaffected.
And paper companies don’t just self-report these replantings and their environmental friendliness. Robust certification systems are in place to ensure that certified paper originates from sustainable, responsibly managed forests.
For example, each one of Domtar’s 13 mills for the manufacture of pulp and paper are certified by the one of the three major certification organizations, including:
- FSC – An international nonprofit, the Forest Stewardship Council is dedicated to sustainability, setting standards on forest products.
- SFI – A North American certification organization, The Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified forests that are environmentally sustainable.
- PEFC – Based in Switzerland, The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes is a nonprofit responsible for administering over two-thirds of the world’s globally certified forested area. In addition, 100% of all Quebecois lands managed by Domtar are FSC and FSI-certified.
These programs continue to grow and more and more companies continue to play their part. As of this year, 14 percent of all US public forests and 25 percent of all private forests are certified by the three major US-based certification systems.
And, far from contributing to issues like high carbon footprints and global warming, sustainable forest management helps sequester carbon, and fight the effects of climate change. It’s estimated that the total amount of carbon absorbed by trees and the creation of wood products during the 1990s reached 200 megatons/year – about 10% of the total carbon emissions during that time.
New trees are behind the majority of this absorption. For every single ton of wood produced by a forest, 1.47 tons of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere and replaced with approximately 1.07 tons of oxygen. And that’s a number that our environment can feel good about.
Misconception 3: Making Paper Consumes Large Amounts Of Fossil Fuels
Of course, making paper does require some fossil fuels, just as any other material processing and manufacturing industry segment, such as mining and refining, does. However, the paper and pulp industry has made great strides toward sustainability, with a huge commitment toward energy independence and fuel efficiency. Every paper company that TGW serves has a major focus on continued sustainability and is the centerpiece on every one of their websites.
Many paper and pulp companies have made large investments in fuel sustainability, using spent cooking liquor for pulping, biomass from trees that cannot be used to create products, and other waste as energy sources. This reduces waste and increases sustainability, and reduces harmful emissions.
As a matter of fact, the forestry industry is at the top of the list when it comes to on-site electricity generation of any manufacturing sector – the electricity generated by some companies exceeds their usage and can be used to provide supplemental electricity to the power grid that surrounds the facility.
For example, Domtar’s 2012 total use of renewable energy at all operations clocked in at a massive 76.3% – and that energy usage reduces the carbon emissions and fossil fuels necessary to create high-quality pulp and paper products.
Compared to other manufacturing sectors such as electronics and telecommunications systems, the environmental impact of the wood pulp and paper industry is negligible. In fact, mobile phones, data centers, and telecommunications networks are slated to become the single biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses by 2020, according to consulting firm McKinsey and Company.
The Paper Industry – Sustainable, Renewable, And Looking Towards The Future
We hope this article has been useful to clear up some common misconceptions about the paper and pulp industry, its environmental impact, and the future of the renewable paper and pulp industry.
The paper industry constantly makes all efforts possible towards sustainability, renewability, and a healthy future. So next time you grab a piece of paper, think about the tree that it came from – and the trees that were planted in its place.
We make machine knives that are used in the printing, converting, packaging and processing industries. A large portion of the success of our business is tied to the availability of the materials used in those processes. Given this symbiotic relationship, we are committed to the sustainability of natural resources in order to continue to put finished goods in a consumer’s hands.