Paper is back on center stage. As kids and parents around the country get ready to go back to school and back to the office, paper is in high demand. From folders to notebooks, homework assignments to report cards, paper is a very tangible measure of normality in a world gone digital.
People have been jotting things down for a long time. While materials like papyrus pre-date even Egyptian times, paper as we might recognize it is first documented in China from around 105 AD.
The process has changed over the centuries, but it wasn’t until the invention of the printing press that brought about a big rise in demand. By the 1800s, pulpwood became the material used by approximately 95% of all paper products worldwide.
One of the biggest developments to improve the sustainability of paper production came from Sweden in the 1840s. Paper producers devised a system that allowed them to reuse nearly all of the chemicals needed to make paper, lower costs, and improving the efficiency of paper mills around the world.
All of those mills rely on timber to create their products. In theory, any type of timber could be used to make the pulp used for paper, although most manufacturers prefer coniferous specific like spruce and pine. The demand for paper has also resulted in GMO species of trees that have accelerated growth rates to help replace harvested forests much more quickly.
To that end, there are a number of national and international bodies that monitor and certify the growth of forests for paper use. They offer guidelines to promote and maintain biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem, while also encouraging sustainable and responsible logging practices. Roughly 16% of pulp production comes from nurseries dedicated to pulp; another 9% relies on old-growth forests, and the remainder comes from second, third, or older generational regrowth.
The world uses a lot of paper, but each tree offers a lot of bang for the buck. A single log creates approximately 16.67 reams of copy paper, which equates to a little over 8,333 pieces of paper. That’s a lot, but when the average American household discards 13,000 pieces of paper a year, we need plenty of trees. The key to reducing waste is to be thoughtful and efficient with our needs, choosing products with little or minimal packaging, and reducing our intake of products like junk mail or unnecessary billing correspondence.
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