Environmental Impact of Paper Waste
Did you know that the magazine industry moves more than a million tons of virgin fiber paper to recycled paper yearly? That’s enough to fill up 15,000 swimming pools! And if that wasn’t enough, the recycled newspaper comes back seven days later. The global paper towel industry generates 254 million tons of trash annually, equivalent to more than 51,000 trees cut down each day. By reducing paper towel usage by just three rolls per household, consumers could save 120,000 tons of waste each year, or $4.1 million in waste processing costs.
We want to remove plastics, which is good, but we forget about the environmental impact of paper and paper waste. Today we dig into a few different ways paper waste impacts our environment.
Paper production is a major consumer of energy.
The amount of primary energy consumed by the paper manufacturing process varies depending on the grade of the finished product and is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). The highest total energy consumption in the production of graphical grades is about 500 kWh, and the lowest is about 2 kWh (B4). The total energy used for the paper manufacturing process is further broken down by the amount of waste generated.
It uses a lot of water.
Paper is one of the most common types of waste that causes environmental damage. It accounts for 34% of all municipal waste and has a large environmental impact before and after it is used. Paper mills currently produce over 500 million tons of paper annually, which is expected to double by 2020. Paper waste uses a lot of water, pollutes the air, and uses a lot of energy.
It consumes a lot of trees.
The waste from paper production accounts for a large proportion of the greenhouse gas emissions that humans create. Paper-based products are responsible for 68 million trees being cut yearly in the United States alone. The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper each year, which translates to killing 1.2 trees. Paper-based products account for more than 30 percent of municipal and office waste, which is approximately half of the total trash generated in the US.
It fills 40% of landfills.
According to the US EPA, paper waste fills up to 40 percent of MSW landfills. The amount of paper that is disposed of in the US alone is enough to fill the Superdome, and New York City discards enough trash daily to fill the Empire State Building. While the Antarctic continent is relatively clean, it’s protected by international treaties which prohibit mineral mining, nuclear explosions, and waste disposal. The amount of office paper discarded in the United States each year would fill up the Fenway Park and Prudential Building. Nearly a third of all waste is generated by product packaging.
It contributes to acid rain.
Approximately 35% of all harvested trees are used to produce paper. Additionally, 1/3 of all lumber used in the United States is used for paper production. As a result, paper manufacturing contributes to the global carbon and nitrogen emissions responsible for acid rain. Further, paper manufacturing waste releases sulfur compounds such as dimethyl sulfide and methyl mercaptan, which are harmful to the environment and cause acid rain.
It takes up a lot of space.
The environmental impact of paper waste is often overlooked. Paper production uses as much energy and 330 l of water per kilogram as plastic bags. Paper waste is also the third biggest industrial polluter in the world. The chemicals used in paper production release toxic materials into the atmosphere and water. In addition, the decomposition of paper releases methane, a gas 25 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide. These factors make it important for paper-dependent companies to sort their waste.
It attracts insects and rodents.
Paper waste is a favorite food source for a variety of pests. You can eliminate this problem by collecting the garbage, tying up the bags, and taking them to an outside bin. However, you send this rubbish to the curb, and then it goes to the landfill to decompose and rot. Rotting paper and other food items bring rodents known carriers of dangerous bacteria, viruses, and illnesses.
It costs a lot to dispose of
Disposing of paper waste has severe financial implications. Although paper is inexpensive, associated costs are often 30 times the cost of purchasing it. According to a Gartner report, businesses can spend as much as 3% of their annual revenue on paper. An average office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of paper annually, equating to a substantial amount of waste. Further, around half of the business waste is made up of paper.
Summary: Environmental Impact of Paper Waste
These are just a few environmental impacts of paper waste. While paper comes from a renewable resource, it is still very costly. Vermicomposting and composting, in general, can help you reduce the environmental impact of disposing of and recycling paper.