Paper is a crucial part of everyday life. In the United States alone, it's used to publish more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers annually. But the eco-impact of cutting down all those trees and turning them into paper adds up quickly.
The problem with paper
Americans consumed a staggering 654 pounds of paper and paperboard goods each in 2005.  Fifty-five pounds of that total was tissue products, such as toilet and facial tissue, paper towelling, and napkins. The paper industry consumes 35 percent of all harvested trees every year, accounting for the felling of nearly 4 billion individual trees yearly.
About 93 percent of today's paper comes from trees (not agricultural byproducts or recycled fibers). And the waste doesn't stop there. Paper production is an inefficient process; manufacturing 1 pound of paper requires 2 to 3 pounds of tree. What's more, over half (55 percent) of the trees used to meet worldwide paper demand are newly cut. In fact, a single sheet of printer or writing paper might contain fibers from hundreds of different trees that have collectively traveled thousands of miles, potentially from timber logged in regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. Only 38 percent of paper is from recycled sources, and the remaining 7 percent originates from non-tree sources.
Paper, energy, waste, and pollution
In addition to tree loss, the virgin timber-based pulp and paper industry is the third largest industrial emitter of global warming pollution, with carbon dioxide emissions projected to double by 2020. It also uses 11.5 percent of the energy in the industrial sector.
Additionally, paper and paper products make up about 40 percent of the municipal waste stream; that is, all the materials that end up in a landfill. In 2006, that added up to more than 85 million tons of paper and paper products.
Finally, the manufacturing of paper is a polluting endeavor. During the paper-making process, in an effort to brighten the wood fibers and guard against yellowing, chlorine or chlorine compounds are often added to act as bleaching agents. This process creates hundreds of chemicals that are released into the environment, including dioxin, a known carcinogen.
Bleaching paper with chlorine also uses more fresh water than non-chlorine methods. To produce one six-and-a-half ounce booklet with chlorine-bleached paper requires 10.15 gallons of fresh water, compared to less than a half gallon needed when using a chlorine-free alternative.
Alternatives to bleaching with chlorine or chlorine derivatives include using oxygen, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide.
- US Energy Information Administration - Forest Products: Economic Profile and Trends
- Earth Trends - Resource Consumption: Paper and paperboard consumption
- Ecology - Paper Chase
- Worldwatch Institute - Good Stuff? - Paper
- Worldwatch Institute - Good Stuff? Paper
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Reforming the Paper Industry
- Environmental Defense - Paper and Packaging
- Environmental Paper Network - Maximizing Recycled Content
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006
- Treecycle - Use Post-Consumer! It is the goal!
- Chlorine Free Products Association - Confronting Chlorine
- California Integrated Waste Management Board - Chlorine-Free Paper