The Environmental Impact of Paper: Why Going Paperless Matters

Paper production against blue sky

Invented in 105 AD, paper was one of the world’s most revolutionary inventions. Initially used for wrapping precious objects, paper soon became an important writing material. From Asia, it spread all around the world, and today, people in the United States alone use around 65 billion sheets of paper — or around $4 billion — in one day.

And that isn’t even the only astonishing number. According to the same study, paper consumption in the US has grown from 92 million tons to 208 million tons a year in just two decades.

On average, each American uses as much paper as 6 Asians combined, and despite holding only around 5% of the global population, the US consumes more than 30% of the world’s paper and uses around 68 million trees a year to produce paper and paper products.

How is Paper Used: General Stats and Facts

How is Paper Used: General Stats and Facts. Photo Credit: Unsplash

Businesses are responsible for most of the printed paper use in the US, with an estimated 10,000 sheets used each year by an office worker, on average. Almost half of it — around 43% — ends up in the trash by the end of the day. Needless to say that that’s a lot of waste, not only in paper but also printer toner and energy.

According to the Paperless Project, American corporations spend over $120 billion on printed forms, most of which come trashed by the end of the day or outdated within three months.

Not only do businesses lose a lot of money, but they also lose important information. According to Data Report, companies completely lose around 7.5% of their paper documentation, on average. That’s a lot of potentially essential business data flushed down the drain, metaphorically speaking.

Now, if you don’t really care about businesses and corporation money, perhaps you’ll care to find out that the impact of paper production and paper waste goes beyond economic considerations — paper production and waste have a negative impact on our environment.

What very few people know is that pulp and paper is the third-largest water, land, and air polluter in North America, releasing over 100 million kilograms of toxic pollution each year. Paper production claims around 18 million acres of forests yearly — or the equivalent of around 20 football fields per minute.

Paper waste processing costs Americans around $4.1 million a year, and around 26% of municipal solid waste landfills are filled with paper and paper products.

The Effects of Paper on the Environment

The Effects of Paper on the Environment

Paper is allegedly a biodegradable material, so not many people think about the effects paper production and paper waste have on the environment.

However, both paper production and paper waste management have a strong negative impact on our planet.

Paper production from paper plantations, for instance, is responsible for the use of pesticides and herbicides. Deforestation to make room for paper plantations leaves wildlife without a habitat, and the plantations don’t offer a replacement because trees are harvested before maturity.

If that wasn’t bad enough, chemicals used for pulping and bleaching paper release persistent toxic pollutants, including chlorine, phosphorus, lead, and mercury. These pollutants soak the lands around paper factories and eventually pollute the waters, from where they end up in the fish and seafood we eat, but also in the water we drink.

Health effects include nerve disorders, cancers, and fertility problems, to name just a few.

Besides global health, paper production and processing are also responsible for the consumption of fossil fuel and the release of greenhouse effect toxins into the atmosphere.

Recycling Is Not Enough

Many people believe that recycling paper is the way to address paper waste and pollution, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, recycling has a positive impact, reducing air pollution by around 74% and water pollution by 35%. However, according to specialists, recycling is not the answer. That’s because paper can only be recycled a number of times before its fibers lose strength and end up in landfills anyway. Thus, reducing your paper footprint is the only way to go.

Ways to Reduce Paper Usage

1. Go Paperless with CamScanner

Go paperless with CamScanner

The concept of paperless office isn’t new, and the mobile scanning app CamScanner does everything in its power to help businesses, educational institutions, and individuals go paperless. The app acts as a virtual scanner — simply use your phone to turn hard copies of your documents and files into digital copies.

Powered by AI-based optical character recognition technology (OCR), CamScanner also allows users to convert PDFs into editable formats, such as Word, Excel, or editable PDFs.

A bunch of other features includes cloud storage, syncing between devices, and the possibility to share files effortlessly with your team or contacts. Furthermore, the app also allows for wireless printing, should you really have to turn a digital file into a hard copy.

2. Reuse Paper

Re-use paper to reduce paper waste

Even if you download CamScanner and go paperless today, you’ll still be left to deal with piles of paper you already have. A simple way to reduce your paper footprint is by reusing it.

For instance, you can reuse paper for arts and crafts, print drafts or faxes on the unused side of printed sheets you might have already, or shred your unused paper documents and use them as packaging material.

Plain, non-glossy paper can also go in the compost pile (paper is biodegradable, after all), or you could use newspapers and magazines printed on glossy paper for lining a birdcage or used as bedding for pets such as hamsters if shredded.

3. Use Recycled Paper

While recycling paper yourself may not have a major impact, using recycled paper, to begin with, can be wise. A few examples include buying recycled paper shopping bags or packaging cardboards, using toilet paper made out of recycled paper, and even buy notebooks or books made of recycled paper. Not only will you save some trees, but you’ll also help reduce land and water pollution as well as greenhouse gases.

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