We are always being encouraged to go paperless. There is a general assumption that use of paper is not environmentally friendly, yet how true is this?

Environmental concern

Like many people, I am concerned about the environment but I do also remember some key facts about paper production I was taught in school. At that time 100% of all paper that was produced was sourced from trees that were farmed specifically for the purpose of producing paper. Tree growers planted new trees to replace the ones felled for production and had done so in cycles for over hundreds of years. Having recently spoken with an executive from a paper production facility, I found that 100% of the paper they produce comes from recycled paper collected all across North America.

This is similar for their other production facilities across the globe.

ByronDotOrg asks the question "do you want to live on a planet with more trees, or less trees?" and suggests "If (so), then use as much paper as possible. Boosting demand will boost supply, and, voilà! More trees!" arguing that this is a case of supply and demand "Just about all of our paper comes from privately owned forests called 'managed timberlands."

Manufacturers in the industry are clear: generally paper production today uses more than 50% recycled paper and the remainder of the remaining raw material still comes from trees that are specifically farmed for paper production, it is not a case of chopping down the rain-forests to manufacture as scare-mongers would have us believe.

The grade of wood is vital both to paper and other wood using industries. Wood is also specifically farmed for furniture production and for housing timber and for other industrial uses, often industrial timbers are recycled. It turns out that the tree in my back garden would have no industrial use whatsoever, grain, knots, and tree size and shape are all vital in determining the needs of all the wood using industries, 'wild' trees are of no value to these industries as quality cannot be guaranteed.

The type of wood that is grown is selected to minimize the number of knots in the grain.

Should we care about what we print?

Of course we should care what we print, it's important to think before printing, in the age of email and electronic reporting we naturally print less than ever before, but we also have to recognize that some things must be printed.

The correct balance must be maintained. Cost is an important factor here and in some workplaces should be a more important driving factor for not printing. According to Epublishers Weekly "In the USA in one year, 2 billion books are produced, to get the paper for these books requires consuming 32 million trees."

Today, even though we have a world population double that of 1980 we are actually using less paper per person than at that time (thanks in part to the Internet but also because people are acting responsibly in respect to printed materials). Paper production has only risen 67% between 1980 and 2000 -- this represents a reduction in the amount of paper used per person on a worldwide basis.

Ask your local postman and they will tell you that postal volumes are declining year after year, another impact of less paper being generated by all. Print, newspapers, magazines, books, and other industries utilizing paper are all currently declining as we transition to an increasingly electronic world, we the customer demand it as we set the values for a new age.

Room for more improvement

There is always room for improvement though -- I was at the offices of a large corporation about a month ago where there was still a pile of paper sitting next to the printer that had date stamps on it over a month old and had not been collected, including a report over 50 pages in length -- clearly too many people are wasting the resources that are available to them.

This type of waste costs companies dearly when added across every printer the company owns.

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