Americans still use more than 90 million tons of paper, or about 700 pounds per person, per year. Developing nations like China, India and the rest of Asia are the fastest-growing per-capita users of paper, but at about 100 pounds per person, per year. Australians use about 300 pounds per person, per year, and Western Europe uses more than 400 pounds per person, per year. To feed this intense hunger for wood pulp, half the world's forests have already been cleared or burned, and 80 percent of what's left has been seriously degraded.
The world's forests are also the world's lungs. Forests clear carbon from the atmosphere and generate fresh, clean air for us to breathe. It's estimated that forests clean and store half the carbon from the atmosphere, making them our single best defense against climate change and acidification of the oceans. In addition to chewing up the world's forests, the paper industry is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
If we recycle paper, and use recycled paper products instead of products made from virgin wood, we will use 100 percent less trees, 44 percent less energy and produce 38 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, recycling paper hasn't really caught on yet in our country, and less than half the office paper used is recycled. If the United States cut office paper use by just 10 percent, we could prevent the emission of 1.6 million tons of greenhouse gases — about the same as permanently parking 280,000 cars.
Recycled paper currently makes up about 37 percent of our pulp supply, and winds up becoming 6 percent of office paper, 45 percent of tissues (including toilet paper) and 32 percent of newspaper. The newspaper industry is one of the earliest and most willing to embrace recycled paper, so remember that before you cancel your subscription to save paper.
Here are some very effective ways to save paper:
—Buy only 100 percent recycled-content paper for office use, toilet paper and paper towels (if you still use them).
—Switch to online billing! If every U.S. household made the switch, we would save more than 750 million pounds of paper and 9 million trees, thereby avoiding nearly 10 million tons of global warming emissions, each year.
—Say no to receipts. U.S. banks alone print 8 billion ATM receipts each year. In addition to excess paper consumption, these receipts are printed on coated "thermal" paper that cannot be recycled.
—Check out books from the library, buy books second-hand or read them online instead of purchasing newly printed books on virgin paper.
—Eliminate junk mail by contacting the offending companies directly or opting out of national and regional mailing lists. This will save about 40 pounds of paper per person, per year.
—Adjust print settings to use as much of the available space on your paper as possible. For example, copy emails, web pages and text from PDFs into a word-processing program, which allows you to reduce margins and font size and delete unwanted images or text. Print on both sides of your paper, and consider squeezing two or more pages onto each side.
—For the more hard-core — commit to a paperless office and learn to do without printing. Instead of tossing paper in the garbage, reuse it by printing on the backside, cutting it into quarters and using it for scrap, or shredding it and using it for packaging. In the home, commit to a paperless home by switching to cloth napkins, hand towels and a chalkboard for family notes.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Shawn Dell Joyce and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM