Credit: Danny Cornelissen, via Wikimedia Commons, CC license
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When we think of the environmental aspects of using paper, it’s not just the deforestation we have to consider, it’s the industrial process too. So how is paper made, anyway?
The general process goes like this:
- Pulping: this breaks the wood fibres down into a pulpy substance ready for production. It can be done with chemicals like caustic soda or sulfurous acid (which makes stronger paper, but less efficiently), or mechanically by chipping or grinding the wood (which is cheap and efficient but makes weak paper).
- Processing: the pulp is mixed with additives like melamine, urea formaldehyde, or calcium carbonate to make it more moisture resistant or bleach it. It’s fed into a machine which turns it into a web, then presses and dries it to make paper.
- Finishing: the paper is now sized, coated, polished and cut.
As you can imagine, all this work takes a lot of energy and water, and creates a lot of pollution. According to Clean Up Australia (pdf), a tonne of paper needs 20 trees, 90,000 litres of water and 4100 kWh of electricity to get made. It’ll also create 1,46 tonnes of greenhouse gases before it even gets to landfill. And yet we’re throwing away 50 kilos of paper each every year.
What makes this throwaway rate so silly is that we’re importing about two-thirds of our paper every year. Why should we do that when it’s just going to landfill anyway?
I really think we can do better. The paper production process is a hungry one, and we could be using the energy and water for something else while preserving our forests and forests overseas. I’m glad we’re doing this challenge, and I hope you’re all making progress on removing extra paper from your life.