How is Recycled Paper Fighting Climate Change?

June 25, 2019

Climate change is a global problem that we can no longer ignore. The greenhouse gases humans are pumping into the atmosphere has and will continue to affect the planet from Arctic glaciers to the Amazon rainforest, sparing no region. Over the last century, the planet's surface temperature has increased by 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit - warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets and causing a record high number of extreme weather events.  

One may ask how recycled paper can work to fight climate change?

100% post-consumer paper products prevent paper waste from sitting in landfills. Studies have provided evidence that when paper sits in landfills, it breaks down and releases methane, a short lived but highly potent greenhouse gas. Methane has 25 times the heat-absorbing capacity of CO2. The methane that is released directly contributes to the warming of the atmosphere causing more ice to melt, more forest fires to burn, and more extreme temperatures. 

We also know that the paper manufacturing process has a high carbon footprint. A study done by Environmental Paper network shows that 62% of these carbon emissions come from the logging and transportation processes. Paper made from post consumer waste not only prevents forests from being cut down but also eliminates the carbon emissions from logging and transporting the trees to the mill.

As we lose more and more natural forests to paper making, the effects of climate change amass and these areas lose their ability to hold much of the worlds carbon. Without large carbon sinks like ancient forests, carbon sits in the atmosphere absorbing heat and fuels rising temperatures, more violent storm events, and shrinking ice caps. Instead, these areas are left to dry and burn in the rising temperatures.

The main argument is that trees can be replanted and they will still absorb carbon. While both are true, science has proven that second growth trees cannot nearly replace the carbon storage abilities of the ancient forests that have been lost. A study conducted by Nate Stepgenson at the US Geological Survey found that “ rapid growth in giant trees is the global norm, and can exceed 600kg per year in the largest individuals”. Furthermore, Stephenson states “ large, old trees play a disproportionately important role in a forest’s carbon dynamic. It’s as if the star players on your favorite sports team were a bunch of 90-year-olds.”” Tree farms, which have become a popular way to fight deforestation, are not the same as the original forests that were cut down as carbon sequestration from old growth trees has already been lost and habitats have already been destroyed.

The effects of cutting down trees combined with the large quantities of paper ending up in landfills all over the globe lead to detrimental effects on our climate.

As print elites in North America, your brands and paper buyers can have a large impact on mitigating changes in our climate. By choosing paper with high post consumer recycled content, your paper buyers can divert waste from landfills and prevent forests from being cut down. The switch to these papers not only benefit the forests, but also your company as many companies have set forth to green their business practices. These high post consumer recycled papers can help your clients meet annual sustainability goals and you can help differentiate yourselves and your products in the market.

Contributor: Jonathon Duffy