Background on paper
We are a nation dependent upon paper consumption: Paper products are #1 in quantity generated, #1 in amount recycled, and the #1 material headed to landfills and incinerators. More than 85,280,000 tons of paper were consumed in the U.S. in 2006, more than one third of all the materials used. While just over 50% of paper products were recycled, more than 42,000,000 tons still ended up in landfills and incinerators. Paper is the #1 organic material in our landfills and the #1 source of landfill methane, both by volume and per unit.
Paper recovery is about more than what happens in the landfill. Source reduction, paper recycling, and composting have extraordinary environmental and economic benefits. The paper and pulp industry is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases among manufacturing industries, and contributes 9 percent of total manufacturing carbon dioxide emissions. The industry is the largest user of industrial process water per ton of product and the third largest industrial consumer of energy. The industry ranks fourth among industrial sectors in emissions of Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) chemicals to water and third in such releases to air. More than 40% of the industrial wood harvest is currently used to make paper. Making paper from recovered fiber instead of virgin inputs saves energy, cuts waste, reduces GHG emissions and is generally a cleaner manufacturing process.
Resources on paper reduction and recycling
- Conservatree, expert advice and leadership on paper choices
- Paper Industry Association Council, the uses of recycled paper and the recycling process
- American Forest and Paper Association, national trade association
- Recycling at Work
- U.S. Conference of Mayors, Clean your Files Day campaign
- Environmental Paper Network, “State of the Paper Industry” report
Establishing purchasing goals for recycled content paper
Paper recycling markets need strong consumer demand for recycled content paper. According the Environmental Paper Network, 37 percent of U.S. pulp is produced from recovered paper. However, the use of recycled content varies widely among grades of paper, from an average of 45 percent recycled content in tissue products and 32 percent in newsprint to a low of 6 percent in printing and writing papers.
The federal government requires all agencies to purchase at least 30% post-consumer recycled content for printing papers and establishes guidelines for other paper purposes as well. Many states have followed suit. These guidelines should also be adopted as a baseline for local governments, businesses, and other institutions. Use the links below to learn more.
- Federal Guidelines
- CalRecycle Buy Recycled and Environmental Preferable Purchasing
- Environmental Defense’s Paper Calculator
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