Is the Paper Industry Getting Greener? Five Questions Answered
(New York, May 01, 2017) By Gary M. Scott, Professor and Chair of the Department of Paper and Bioprocess Engineering at the State University of New York – College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
1. Does paper manufacturing contribute to deforestation? Pulp and paper companies often are accused of cutting down trees to make paper. However, 39 percent of the fiber used for papermaking comes from recycled paper. Most of the remaining wood is obtained either through forest thinning (removing slow-growing or defective trees) or from lumber milling residues — materials that otherwise would go unused. Only 36 percent of timber harvested in the United States is used directly to make paper and paperboard.
Each year the amount of wood harvested from U.S. forests is much less than annual forest growth. Land covered by forests in the United States increased by 4.5 percent between 1997 and 2012, even as suburban development expanded.
The industry works very hard to protect its raw material sources. Mills have the option to use wood certified as coming from sustainable forests. Timber companies and land owners manage and harvest their forests to maintain forest productivity and health, protect water resources and biodiversity and preserve opportunities for hiking, fishing, hunting and camping.
Production of timber, pulp, and paper is often described as a major driver of global deforestation. This is true to some extent, but the industry is changing its practices to be more environmentally responsible. It’s also important to note that 73 percent of deforestation in tropical and subtropical areas is for agriculture, mainly producing palm oil, soybeans and beef.
Consumers can encourage sustainable use of wood by purchasing only products that display certifications from groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
2. Historically, pulp and paper mills have been major pollution sources. Is this changing? Yes. Over the past 50 years, this industry has become much more environmentally aware.
For mills that use wood as their raw material, almost every component of the wood is made into something useful. Bark removed from logs before pulping is usually burned for energy, which provides a biomass-based, renewable energy source. In the most common pulping process, chemicals are regenerated through a complex sequence of processes, and wood byproducts are burned for energy. Residual ash is often used in construction materials such as concrete, or for road construction.
Pulping and paper-making yields many other co-products in addition to energy. They include turpentine, rosins used to make adhesives and rubbers, sulfonated lignin (a material used in making concrete, drilling mud and drywall) and even imitation vanilla flavoring. Residual fibers from paper recycling can be used for other purposes, including mulch, animal bedding and soil amendments.
The industry also has greatly reduced the quantity of materials that it discharges to the environment over the past 40 years. In 2015, it accounted for just 5 percent of the 27.24 billion pounds of production-related waste reported by U.S. manufacturers.
Pulping and paper-making are very energy-intensive, but much of the power comes from renewable sources. In 2012 two-thirds of the energy used by U.S. paper mills, including both electricity and heat, came from renewable sources, and the pulp and paper industry accounted for 62 percent of biomass-sourced energy used in all manufacturing facilities nationwide, across all industries.
Because it uses so much biomass energy, the industry has reduced its carbon footprint per ton of product by over 55 percent since 1972. Some mills actually produce more electrical energy than they need and sell “green” energy back to the grid.
3. How much paper is recycled? Paper is one of the most-recycled materials in the world . . .
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