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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Why It Makes Sense To Recycle Paper

Why It Makes Sense To Recycle Paper

Date : 7th November 2002, Source : GreenPlanet

Although it's hard to imagine, there was a time before paper. According to legend, a Chinese court official first created cloth paper in the year 105 A.D. and used it to record documents and other important royal business.

Paper was a huge improvement over older methods of communicating - such as stone, bones, cave walls or clay tablets (such as those used very effectively but somewhat cumbersomely by the Babylonians.)

Only the Chinese knew the secrets of paper creation until Muslims invaded during the 8th century and captured a Chinese paper mill.

It would be more than nine hundred years before paper was made in the United States. England supplied the colonies with paper until the American Revolution, when Benjamin Franklin set up the first American paper mill. The mill originally used the Chinese technique of shredding cloth into individual fibres to make high quality paper. However, demand for the end product quickly outstripped the supply of the necessary rags. As more people began to use this vital commodity, and the necessity to make black marks on white pieces of paper became more pressing, they switched to using tree fibres, since trees were easy to cut down and extremely plentiful.

Today, most of the trees used to make paper grow in special forests developed specifically for making paper – although there has been a heavy toll on old growth forests - throughout the USA, Canada, Europe and most recently in the precious resources of South Western Australia which have been devastated courtesy of corporate greed and ignorant, short-sighted Government policy.

Recycling this Vital Resource

Paper is a bit like oxygen - it's all around us and generally nobody notices. In reality, the paper business is a multi-billion dollar industry throughout the world.

The U.S. is the world's largest producer and consumer of all wood products. For example, Americans consumed close to 99 million tons of paper in 1997 or about 738 pounds per person according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Paper accounts for over 40 percent of the trash people throw away each year and takes up the most room in landfills.

In fact, Americans throw away enough wood and paper every year to heat five million homes for 200 years.

Scientists thought that computers would decrease paper consumption but the opposite has happened. Personal computers and printers account for 155 billion sheets of paper used per year worldwide. The dream of the ‘paperless office’ exists only in cyber-space!

Although the U.S. consumes more paper, its citizens also recycle more. Each year, the U.S. recycles enough paper to fill a box-car train that would be 7,600 miles long.

Much of the paper we use is made from virgin paper mixed with recycled material. When you toss your used paper into a recycling bin, trucks take it to a station where the paper is shredded and mixed with water to start the paper-making process all over again.

Paper mills use your old paper to make new newspaper, notebook paper, paper grocery bags, corrugated boxes, envelopes, magazines, and cartons.

The Business of Paper

So why, if recycled paper is so good for the environment, aren't more people using it and buying it? The answer has to do with money. Recycling can be expensive and it takes time to change people's habits.

American businesses are trying to offer more products not made from older forests. Home improvement stores are already offering products to consumers made from recycled materials or alternative materials like plastic.

Other corporate businesses have instituted paper-saving techniques that save money and reduce the amount of waste generated by their employees.

Consumers can also get into the act by purchasing more products made from recycled paper. Recycled paper comes in various types - you can have paper that is 100 percent "post-consumer" recycled all the way down to 10 percent.

In 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, there were no trees cut down to make it; all the fibres came from recycled materials. If it is less than 100 percent, then the remaining percentage is drawn from virgin trees.

As more companies sell products made from recycled paper, the future of the recycling movement depends on whether people decide it's worth spending a little more money to buy paper that doesn't cost a tree.

Paper Recycling – Some Facts

For each tonne of paper that is recycled, up to 30,000 litres of water and over 4,000 kilowatts of electricity are saved;

Recycling one ton of cardboard saves over 9 cubic yards of landfill space.

In the USA, people throw away enough wood and paper every year to heat five million homes for 200 years

In developed countries, you can expect up to 40% of landfill waste to be made of recyclable paper. This is a totally unnecessary waste of one of the Planet's most valuable resources;

In the USA 45% of all paper is recycled. More than 50 million tons of paper is used each year, which consumes over 850 million trees

If half the paper used throughout the world today were recycled it would free 20 million acres of forest from paper production.

It is possible to recycle paper up 7 to 10 times before the fibres become too soft to hold together.

It takes up to 17 trees of commercially marketable size - over 20 centimetres in diameter at chest height - to produce one tonne of newsprint paper.

The first recorded use of recycling wastepaper for making new paper dates from A.D. 1031 in Japan, where recycled paper was held in very high regard.

If you cannot get you old newsprint to a recycling centre, it can be used quite effectively to keep weeds down in your garden beds. Simply clear the obvious weeds away, lay several layers of newspaper down on the earth and place mulch on top. This will deter most weeds, and any that do appear can be dealt with individually.

The key message is … paper is too precious a commodity to throw away, and recycling makes sense. Now … and in the future!

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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