Is the paper industry getting greener? Five questions answered
(THE CONVERSATION) Editor’s note: Arbor Day, which falls on April 28 this year, was established in the United States in 1872 as a day to plant and care for trees. To mark the event, Gary M. Scott, chair of the Paper and Bioprocess Engineering Department at SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, answers five questions about the pulp and paper industry – a major consumer of trees.
1. Does paper manufacturing contribute to deforestation? Pulp and paper companies often are accused of cutting down trees to make paper. However, 39 percent of the fiber used for papermaking comes from recycled paper. Most of the remaining wood is obtained either through forest thinning (removing slow-growing or defective trees) or from lumber milling residues – materials that otherwise would go unused. Only 36 percent of timber harvested in the United States is used directly to make paper and paperboard.
Each year the amount of wood harvested from U.S. forests is much less than annual forest growth. Land covered by forests in the United States increased by 4.5 percent between 1997 and 2012, even as suburban development expanded.
The industry works very hard to protect its raw material sources. Mills have the option to use wood certified as coming from sustainable forests. Timber companies and land owners manage and harvest their forests to maintain forest productivity and health, protect water resources and biodiversity and preserve opportunities for hiking, fishing, hunting and camping.
Production of timber, pulp, and paper is often described as a major driver of global deforestation. This is true to some extent, but the industry is changing its practices to be more environmentally responsible. It’s also important to note that 73 percent of deforestation in tropical and subtropical areas is for agriculture, mainly producing palm oil, soybeans and beef.
Consumers can encourage sustainable use of wood by purchasing only products that display certifications from groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.