Worth the Paper It's Printed On

Paper waste is the worst. Not because we are killing trees that are absorbing harmful manmade carbon dioxide emissions, but because not using paper has to be about the easiest thing in this high-tech world. Don't you think so?

My background is in newspaper. I carried a notepad for scribbled quotes until I convinced my editor to invest in a cassette tape recorder. Today, I have a digital recorder and a laptop computer that can be used in place of paper. (I realize these techno advances come with their own environmental baggage but that gets off point, so I'm not going there today.)

I do use paper. At least twice a week, I print critical contact information and take pen to pad to prioritize deadline material (I don't have a Blackberry) or organize questions for an interview or ideas for an article. Sometimes I absolutely need a break from the computer. About three times a month, I print a newsletter for proofing purposes, taking care to print on both sides of the paper. This is a far cry from typing a paragraph on a typewriter and tossing it when I get writer's block.

When I see documents printed on one side only, faxes from the newswire that I already received via e-mail, or three versions of the same press release sent to people who no longer work here, I get a little testy. I have even gone to the trouble of calling companies to let them know they are wasting postage AND paper.

Even if you have to use paper because you live and work without technology, usually you can recycle the stuff. The Web site, earth911.org, says that 86 percent of Americans have access to recycling programs, either curbside or drop-off. Those are pretty high numbers, but we all know that having access and making use of it are two different things. So are you a conservative user, a recycler, or a paper waster?

If I missed a paper user category, please feel free to call me on it. And, so I won't be accused of bias, I'd like to give equal time to someone who wastes paper. What's your story?

Send your comments to L.K. Wililams.


Great article…just a thought don’t give the reader the option to print "Printable Format" that seems to contradict the point of the article.
--Bill Wysoski, FMA

You asked whether you are biased and I believe you may be, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt.

I too come from the newspaper business. However, I come from the supplier side. I worked for years providing newsprint paper to the NY Times, LA Times etc. For more than 20 years, a large source of newsprint in the US came from paper mills that used recycled paper. Today, when someone picks up a newspaper, they are likely reading paper that has more than 50% recycled content. I actually worked in a mill that produced 100% recycled newsprint.

How does it work.

Trees are harvested from state, federal, and private lands. The tree is converted into lumber for your house, and the chair you are sitting in. The CO2 that is fixed in this lumber does not go anywhere until you burn the house down. When you convert a tree into a piece of lumber you also get sawdust and shavings from the saws used to cut the logs, bark from the trees, and wood chips. Wood chips come from the boards that break, have too many nots, or cannot be used to build homes etc. The wood chips are then sent to a paper mill that converts the wood chips to paper.

As far as I can tell, there is an extremely small volume of trees being harvested in the US today that goes directly into chips and then to paper production. If a tree is harvested specifically for paper, it is because it comes from a thinning operation (Fire Protection), or is of poor building quality value. Most trees harvested in the US go to lumber first and then to paper, bark compost, landscaping, and nursery operations.
If you cut down a tree on state, federal and private lands in the US you are required by law to replant the forest. If you do not replant, the state fines you, they replant it, and charge the land owner. FACT: there is more forested land in the US today then during WWII.


Paper is not a bad thing. Yes we should recycle paper because it requires less energy to produce recycled paper than from wood chips. However, 100% recycled paper does not last very long. Also, an unintended consequence is what will you use to print a book, magazine, write a letter to your mother, and toilet paper. Lastly, plastic bags come from oil, paper bags come from the worlds most renewable resource available. Not only are they renewable, they also fix carbon.


Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on Apr 30, 2008

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