Paper and the Planet

  • 31 May 2013
  • Art @anchorpress

There are a lot of myths about paper and the environment. The truth is paper is one of the few truly renewable and recyclable raw materials we have - and today's paper industry is one of the most sustainable in the world.

Paper and the Planet | Anchor Print NelsonWood for paper making is sourced from tree farms, where far more trees are planted than cut down. The paper industry is one of the biggest users of renewable, low carbon energy in the world and is leading the way in the development of many other sustainable manufacturing practices. Thanks to continuous research and innovation, its getting cleaner and more resource efficient all the time.

What’s more the tree farms planted by the paper industry act as vast carbon sinks that help repair the environmental damage caused by other industries. Most paper comes from the ultimate renewable resource - Trees. Trees are planted; harvested; and then planted again just like any crop on any farm. Just as importantly trees are essential in the fight against climate change because young trees grow by capturing C02 from the atmosphere.

As trees grow they naturally absorb C02 from the atmosphere. A typical tree absorbs 0.9 tonnes of carbon for every m3 of growth. It also produces 727kgs of oxygen. The carbon released through harvesting is offset by that stored through regeneration and regrowth making sustainability managed forests carbon neutral.

Its estimated there are 25% more trees in the developed world today than at the beginning of the 20th century. In Europe alone, forests are increasing by an equivalent to more then 1.5 million football pitches annually. For every good tonne of wood produced by a tree, 1.5 tonnes of carbon is taken out of the atmosphere.

Paper is often - and mistakenly - blamed for deforestation. In fact, thanks to the paper and timber industries, the worlds forested surface is actually increasing by around 340,000 hectares a year. The main reasons for the loss of forests around the world are agriculture and domestic fuel use, which accounts for around half of all trees felled worldwide.

Tree farms are just like any other: the trees are planted, cared for, felled and replanted. Its in the paper industry’s interest to cultivate forests that will grow and thrive long term. So in a well managed commercial forest, 3 or 4 new trees are planted for every 1 cut down.

Paper is also made from sugar cane fibre, cotton fibre and other materials containing cellulose. Offcuts and waste stone tiles and marble from the building industry are ground up to recover Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3). Per tonne of paper produced, energy consumption is down by 21%, greenhouse gas emissions by 22% and water consumption by 63% internationally since 1990. In New Zealand, we already recycle and reuse a whopping 78% of our waste paper and board, the highest recovery rate in the world

But its not just its environmental credentials that make paper a product of the future. Printed material has always had a special ability to educate, inform, engage and persuade. And for those wanting to talk to today's consumers, deluged with unmeditated, instant gratification digital content, that power is more important now then ever. 

So if you care about the environment - or just care about getting through to your audiences - paper will be your future too.

Many people think of emails and websites as having small environmental footprints compared to a physical product like paper. But digital communications wouldn’t be possible without computers, which do have significant impacts on the environment. Computers contain plastic, toxic chemicals, minerals and metals that need to be mined and refined. Much of the vast amount of energy consumed by the consumer electronics sector is fossil fuel generated. Electronics are the worlds fastest growing waste stream in the world and disposal of e-waste is a serious environmental issue. A television commercial played on a plasma 106cm display is equal to printing one copy of a 16 page paper catalogue. Reading a newspaper can consume 20% less carbon then viewing news online.

Compare this with the natural resources and sustainable practices of the paper industry, and you can see why the print vs digital issue is far from clear-cut environmentally. This is one reason why many now question the silly comment appearing on the bottom of many emails which states "Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail ." Its time that misleading comment was permanently deleted!

People like paper, they like how it feels, its beauty, portability and convenience. It has texture, smell, a vividness of colour and finish and a sensual ‘flick factor’ that websites and emails can’t hope to produce.

Printed communications get into the private places in people’s lives in a way that no electronic media can. A magazine in bed or the bath, a catalogue on the coffee table. A Direct Mail piece on the kitchen bench or a flyer stuck to the fridge.

Faced with today's explosion of constantly changing user-generated online content, people are drawn to the permanence and tangibility of print. It has credibility and authority that people instinctively trust. 

Sources: Spicer Paper Ltd.
NZ Paper Forum
and others

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