I have become preoccupied with paper; how much we use, how much is recycled, how much is not recycled, where it goes after we are done with it, how many trees we could save if we decided to make it mandatory to print double-sided – there’s a lot to think about.
It is something entirely taken for granted in our society and also a product we cannot do without. We breeze through life without ever really noticing that our daily consumption of paper from our 7-11 receipts to psychology textbooks causes forest degradation and adds to the vast pollution of the environment.
After doing some research, I found that each person in the United States consumes about 675 to 700 pounds of paper each year, according to the World Resources Institute. That is a lot of paper being used for everything from magazines and newspapers, to junk mail and printer paper, especially when there are more than 300 million people in the United States.
It is estimated that one ton of uncoated virgin (non-recycled) and office paper uses 24 trees to produce. Using those calculations, that means the student body population at the College, numbering approximately 6,000, is destroying a little more than half a million trees per year. With every ton of paper taking an average of 16 trees to produce, approximately 1.5 billion trees are potentially lost to paper mills each year.
It doesn’t just stop at the destruction of forests and virgin trees. The American Forest and Paper Association cites paper manufacturers as the third-largest users of fossil fuels worldwide. The paper manufacturing industry releases more than 100 million pollutants into the air, water and land each year through the various processes to acquire pulp from trees to make the paper.
From a report from the World Bank Group, I found significant environmental problems result from the processes of extracting pulp and bleaching it with chlorine or other chemicals. Sulfur compounds and nitrogen oxides are emitted into the air, and chlorinated compounds, organic compounds and metals are released as water waste. Air pollutants from paper mills include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxides and particulates. These contribute to ozone damage, acid rain, climate change and human respiratory problems.
However, the Paper Industry Association Council has announced we are recycling more and more of this vital resource every year. Every ton of recycled paper conserves more than just trees; it saves about 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space. This is certainly a welcome statistic when states like ours face serious landfill capacity problems. New Jersey has reached capacity; there just is not enough space left to accommodate all of our waste. This means we cart our trash out of state, keeping us on the path of “out of sight, out of mind.”
But even if we are recycling more, are we really improving the sorry state of our natural environment? Trees are still being cut down, unsustainable production persists and our planet is facing a future of severe climate changes. I believe, first and foremost, it is up to each individual to make conscious decisions and take action to benefit the environment and preserve natural resources. It is important to re-think how we use paper here on campus and in our daily lives. Some simple tips to conserve paper and remove it from the solid waste stream:
Print double-sided or two pages per sheet.
Use on-line sources like Web sites, Power Point and YouTube videos to get information to a class or organization members.
Encourage professors or classmates to eliminate excessive hand-outs if the information is accessible online or through e-mail. It can then be up to the student to print their own copies.
Ask professors if you can e-mail essays and papers (or at least the first draft) electronically.
Re-use the other side of the paper – make a notepad, scratch paper, etc.
Reduce fliers and advertise electronically. Facebook, e-mails, blogs, etc.
Always recycle. Make sure you have access to proper paper recycling bins in your residence.
Visit the College’s recycling page for guidelines and more information: tcnj.edu/recycle
Get involved: President’s Climate Commitment Committee: tcnj.edu/climate
Sources: seventhgeneration.com, id2.ca/picture-paper.html, conservatree.com/learn/EnviroIssues/TreeStats.shtml, epa.gov, ifc.org.