We’ve all learned that paper is made from trees, and cutting down trees is bad. But just how bad is paper? Is it bad enough to go entirely digital? Well, in a world where most people have access to a smartphone or laptop, going paperless may be the right thing to do. 

Here are four problems with the paper industry. 

It Releases Harmful Chemicals 

Papermaking uses toxic chemicals like chlorine and chlorine compounds to break down the wood pulp and bleach paper. The byproducts from these strong and harmful chemicals include boiler ash, effluents, sludge, and suspended solids. 

Naturally, these byproducts have an impact on the environment, especially when they are discarded into surrounding water supplies and land. While the paper industry has occasionally taken accountability for its chemicals and waste, the costs of cleaning up their mess are “passed on to the consumer.” 

Sulfur compounds and nitrogen oxides are also released into the air, which can cause respiratory issues like chronic bronchitis. 

Deforestation 

Paper uses an enormous amount of wood, which isn’t surprising considering just how much paper we come in contact with daily. The slip of paper with our receipt printed on it, the toilet paper we use multiple times a day, and the post-it notes we scribble reminders on all come from trees that have been cut down and shipped to papermaking plants. 

Over 40 percent of the industrial wood traded around the world goes to making paper. Despite having access to digital resources that could render heavy textbooks and balled-up receipts obsolete, the United States consumes an enormous amount of paper. 

Issues related to deforestation include illegal harvesting, a lack of forest conservation, social conflicts, human rights violations, and damaging plantation development. 

Pollution 

The paper industry is one of the biggest producers of industrial pollution. In India, The Ministry of Environment and Forest has deemed the “pulp and paper industry as one of the twenty most polluting industries in the country.” 

Paper mills require a significant amount of freshwater. Once the water has been used, that same water, now dirtied from the production process, is carelessly poured out. This affects the water quality in nearby rivers and canals. 

Paper Waste 

Not only does papermaking release chemicals into the air, encourage deforestation, and pollute water supplies, but it also creates an enormous amount of waste. Every year, we throw away enough wood and paper to heat 50,000,000 homes for 20 years. That’s about 1 billion trees worth of waste!  In the United States, the average home discards 13,000 pieces of paper annually. This includes a lot of paper that is just sent to homes to be thrown away like junk mail and shipping packaging. 

This is where recycling comes in. One ton of recycled paper saves “17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water.” Compared to one ton of virgin paper, recycled paper saves 64% more energy, 58% more water, and 60 pounds of air pollution. 

The construction of recycled paper mills is also more cost-efficient and usually costs 50 to 80 percent less to build than a traditional paper mill that uses new pulp. 

Small Steps 

We understand that trying to phase out plastic is already very difficult. So when it comes to reducing paper, particularly paper waste, looking for small changes to make in your day-to-day routine is the best way to go. You could find a to-do app to use instead of scribbling on pieces of paper. Getting a small bin to put next to your normal trash is an easy way to ensure all the paper waste in your home gets recycled instead of chucked in a landfill. 

See what works for you and your lifestyle. The best part about living sustainably is that there are so many creative ways to do it!

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