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Printing, Paper, and the Environment

“We are advantaged by the fact that our primary raw material is wood fiber, a renewable, recyclable natural resource. The sustainably managed forests and plantations from which we source wood fiber are essential to a healthy environment by sustaining vital plants and wildlife, filtering our water and air, and reducing greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” – Sappi

Thoughtful use of the earth’s resources and protection of the environment may seem like an odd topic for a newsletter written by a printer. After all, printing requires paper, and the paper industry has been criticized for destruction of forests, water pollution, and other anti-environment actions. Printed advertising mail is portrayed as a nuisance to those who receive it and cited for adding to landfills. Even e-mail messages are critical of print – you may have seen this tag line as part of an e-mail signature: Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.

Is printing really the environmental evil its critics assert? Should businesses and individuals adopt a policy of eliminating hard copies of documents and using only e-mail and digital media for sales and marketing outreach? Or are there other considerations that will allow businesses and organizations to continue to use printing and still be good environmental stewards?

Paper According to the Forest Stewardship Council, the United States is the largest market for paper products in the world. The US produces about 90 million tons of paper annually and consumes about 100 million tons. Approximately 35% of the 100 million tons consumed is satisfied by recycled fiber, and another 25% of recycled fiber is exported.

Of all the timber cut annually in the United States, about 25% is used for paper production as virgin fiber. The trees used for paper largely come from forests owned by paper manufacturers and are grown specifically for that purpose. That makes paper a renewable resource. In addition, paper manufacturers plant over four million new trees every year – more than are harvested.

In fact, the amount of forested land is increasing worldwide, particularly in more economically advanced nations. A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences assessed the status of forested land in 50 countries around the world. In 18 of the 50 nations, forest area increased and the condition of forests improved. The results of a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics demonstrated that demand for wood can actually lead to an increase in forested land so that the supply of trees can meet the demand.

Paper manufacturing requires both water and power. Today’s modern paper mills offer a closed system where water is recaptured and recycled, and power and electricity come from renewable biomass obtained from sustainably managed forests.

In their publication Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper Products, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Resources Institute offer this thought:

“Compared to other materials, wood and paper-based goods produced in a sustainable manner can be a wise choice because:

They come from a renewable resource – trees, the product of sunlight, soil, nutrients, and water. They capture carbon – through photosynthesis, trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

In sustainably managed forests, the carbon released through harvesting is offset by that stored through regeneration and regrowth making these forests carbon-neutral. They store carbon over the long term – solid wood, panel, and other wood and paper-based products can effectively store carbon for decades or even centuries. They are recyclable – they can be reused, or converted into other products, extending their useful life and adding to the available resource pool of wood fiber.”

The same publication discusses recycling wood fiber and points out how well the paper industry uses all parts of a tree. Trees with low market value, small tree sections, and wood chips from saw mills are used for wood pulp, while bark and sawdust are used for energy.

Digital Media and the Environment Replacing print with digital initially seems like the best choice for the environment. However, there is growing recognition that going digital raises its own set of environmental concerns. One is the amount of toxic e-waste that results from upgrades to digital devices, including desktop computers.

Another concern is the amount of energy required to power digital devices and “cloud” computing. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, US data centers consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2014, the most recent year examined, representing two percent of the country’s total energy consumption, according to the study. That’s equivalent to the amount consumed by about 6.4 million average American homes that year.

Environmentally Responsible Printing Though digital communication and technologies have become increasingly important to business operations, it is unlikely printing will be totally eliminated. Not every work station will be computerized, and not every customer or prospect will be a candidate for digital media. So there will always be a need for some types of functional forms and documents, as well as for image and marketing pieces.

Don’t overlook the importance of ordering the right quantity of printing, especially full color. We recommend a 3-6 month supply as an ideal amount. In the past you may have needed to order a larger amount of full color printing because of the fixed setup costs, but no longer. Our digital equipment allows us to economically print small quantities – as low as 200 pieces in some cases – so you can keep your inventory small.

As you consider the design and printing of your forms and image pieces, keep in mind the things that will allow the piece to be easily recycled when it has served its purpose.

Think about total ink coverage on the sheet. Printed sheets that are recovered for recycling often have the ink removed before being used again for new paper pulp. The more ink, the more de-inking that will be required when the original sheet is recovered and recycled.

Keep on Printing You don’t have to choose between printed products that your business or organization needs and protecting the environment. Paper is a renewable resource made from pulped wood grown in managed timberland and from waste paper. It is biodegradable and not dangerous– it will decompose harmlessly in a landfill. And paper is recyclable.

So reduce, reuse, recycle, and be responsible. But keep on printing.

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