Monday, March 11, 2013

Paper: Color it Green

Do you believe that using paper results in forest destruction and overburdened landfills? Do you believe that papermaking is energy-intensive and creates pollution? Do you think that electronic communication is always better for the environment than using paper?

If you have been using assumptions like these as part of the decision making process on whether to use print in your business or organization, we’ve got some important information for you. Not only is paper not an environmental threat, it actually helps keep forests healthy and productive.

Paper is a renewable resource

According to the Forest Stewardship Council, the United States is the largest market for paper products in the world. The United States produces about 90 million tons of paper annually and consumes about 100 million tons. Material to make paper comes from three primary sources, each accounting for about one-third of the raw material supply: recycled paper, wood chips and scraps from sawmills, and trees and other plants. The trees used for paper come from forests grown specifically for that purpose.

One-third of the United States – 750 million acres – is forestland. Of that, 56% is privately owned; 39% by family forest owners and 17% by commercial growers. The remaining 44% is owned by the federal government (33%), state governments (9%) and county and municipal governments (2%).

The paper industry supports forests that are managed and continually replanted. Landowners plant about 600 million trees each year, surpassing the amount harvested. As a result, the amount of forestland in the United States today is about the same as it was 100 years ago.

Besides supporting the paper industry, forests provide wildlife habitats, capture rainwater, protect against erosion, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, and sequester carbon. Just 400 trees can capture 140,000 gallons of rainwater annually. Approximately one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon and puts out four tons of oxygen, or enough to meet the annual needs of about 18 people.

In its publication Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper Products, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute pointed out that wood and paper-based goods are an environmentally sound choice.

Papermaking and the environment

Besides cellulose fibers (which may come from trees, recycled papers or plants), paper making requires water and energy. In the United States, nearly 60% of the energy used to make paper comes from carbon-neutral biofuels such as wood waste and wood pulping fibers and is produced on-site at paper mills. In the United States, the pulp and paper industry is the largest producer and consumer of renewable energy.

The cellulose fibers that are the raw material of paper are mixed with water to create a slurry that runs onto a continuously-moving mesh screen above a trough. As the wet fibers catch on the screen, the water falls into the trough and is captured, to be used again to create slurry. The wet fibers on the screen, which are beginning to form the paper, go through a series of dryers before being wound into rolls.

In each step of the paper making process, from tree chipping to drying, scraps of wood and paper – called mill broke – are collected and recycled back into the manufacturing process. Some rolls of paper are converted into paper products like envelopes. Any waste from converting is collected and sent back to the paper mill and used as a direct substitute for wood pulp with no additional processing required.

Digital media and the environment

The substitution of digital media for printed materials initially was seen as a better choice for the environment. But as new research emerges, there is growing recognition of the environmental concerns associated with electronics – among them, energy use and toxic e-waste from obsolete or upgraded electronic devices.

Environmental benefits of recycled paper

In the early 1970s, the EPA conducted a study on the benefits of recycled paper. The study concluded that using one ton of 100% recycled paper saves 7000 gallons of water, 4100 kwh of energy (which is enough to power the average home for six months), keeps 60 pounds of pollution out of the air, and saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.

When recycled papers first came on the market in the 1980s, there was a marked difference in availability, appearance and performance between them non-recycled paper. Our customers complained that recycled paper jammed in their copiers and printers and had visible flaws.

All that has changed. Recycled paper now performs well on press and in copiers, laser and inkjet printers. Almost all paper mills make recycled papers, in grades ranging from high quality bonds and writing papers to commodity sheets.

Interest in recycling paper has grown steadily. The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) reported that in 1995, nearly 12 million tons of printing and writing paper were recovered out of nearly 29 million tons consumed – a recovery rate of 41%. By 2010, over 63% of paper consumed in the United States was recycled. Paper product recycling has become a major business, providing both economic and environmental value.

We use paper responsibly

For our part, we use paper responsibly. Like you, we conserve and recycle paper used in our business operations. In our production operation, we do even more:

  • We use standards for makeready and setups. Each printing job requires makeready – sheets of paper used to register the image and come up to color. Jobs with post-press steps like folding and cutting require setups. We have standards for the number of sheets needed for makeready and setups so we don’t waste paper.
  • We keep an inventory of house sheets. We select our house sheets with two things in mind – how well they perform, and their suitability for the kinds of projects our customers regularly order. This helps keep us from accumulating a lot of surplus paper.
  • We donate our surplus paper. If we have leftover special order paper from a job, we wrap it, store it, and donate it to schools who use it in classroom projects.

Don’t be afraid to use paper

We end with a quotation from Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace and currently the chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies, Inc., and the author of Trees are the Answer:

Forestry is the most sustainable of all the primary industries that provide us with energy and materials . . . To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less. Using wood sends signals to the marketplace to grow more trees.

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