Updated: Mar 19
When you start your zero waste journey, paper is often the first choice. Paper products are an easy and widely available alternative to plastic products. However, there are also lots of downsides to paper products. These cons will be discussed below. First I would like to mention some of the benefits of paper products.
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Pros of paper products
The biggest advantage of paper is that it can be decomposed more easily compared to plastic products.
Paper products can be recycled which helps the environment and it shows that you care about the environment. With recycling, there are less pollution and the dumping of paper trash into landfills. This prevents hazardous gases from entering our atmosphere when the paper would be burned in a landfill.
The paper industry (and the paper recycling industry) creates lots of jobs for men and women around the world. Which is great for the economy worldwide. When paper is recycled, it saves a lot of trees that will not have to be cut down.
Cons of paper products
With the improvements in the technology of more efficiently making paper and paper products, disposable paper becomes much more affordable for the average consumer. This results in a drastic increase in consumption and paper pollution. It is estimated that 40% of the waste in the US is paper.
This increase in paper demand causes the endangerment of natural habitats. Each day, between 80.000 and 160.000 trees are cut down daily for the manufacturing of paper. This is over 30 million acres/100.000 square kilometers of forest that is destroyed annually for the production of paper. So, the paper industry is a big contributor to deforestation and is partly to blame for the endangerment of some species that live in those forests.
Paper production requires lots of water. A US Letter/A4 size paper requires 2,6 gallon/10 liters of water for the production of one sheet.
Paper and pulp manufacture discharge water polluted with inorganic materials like chlorine and metal compounds which contribute to soil and water pollution affecting all life in the water.
The paper industry is the 5th largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. To produce 1 ton of paper approximately 253 gallons /950 liters of petroleum is required.
The production of paper produces 70% more air pollution and 50 times more water pollution than plastic bag production.
It takes more than 4 times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag compared to a plastic bag.
I think I am not alone when I say that the downsides of the production of paper shocked me. The amount of water and petroleum required for paper production really surprised me. Also, the chemicals involved in the production and recycling of paper are just horrible.
So, what can you do to minimize paper pollution?
Only use paper when you really need it. Keep your documents digital when possible. When you need paper, use only recycled paper that was environmentally friendly manufactured. Make the people around you aware to be more conscious about recycling. It will be a challenge but we make the world a little better one small step at a time.