Paper facts

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What are the environmental and social concerns about paper production?
What is the link between the paper industry and climate change?
And why should we use less paper?

Find some answers in this section to get you started on this complex issue.

  • Global production in the pulp, paper and publishing sector is predicted to increase to 500 million tonnes by 2020. (10)
Resource Consumption
  • Making a tonne of paper from wood requires 98 tonnes of other resources. (1)
  • Making a tonne of paper uses as much energy as making a tonne of steel. (2)
  • In industrial countries, the paper industry is the biggest user of water. (4)
  • Of the global wood harvest for ‘industrial uses’ (everything but fuelwood) 42% goes to paper production. (8)
Climate Change
  • Deforestation causes more climate change emissions than global transport. (3)
  • Taking all forest carbon losses and greenhouse gas emissions from paper production, transportation, use and disposal into account, the pulp and paper industry is calculated to be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the global aviation industry. (11)
Waste
  • 45% of all print-outs and photocopies are binned before the end of the day. (5)
  • Only about half of the paper produced each year is recycled (200 million tonnes in 2012) (12)
Global Inequality
  • Industrialized nations, with 20 percent of the world’s population, consume 87 percent of the world’s printing and writing papers. (6)
  • North Americans and Europeans use more than 200kg of paper each per year, while the average African uses just 6.5kg. (7)
  • Total global consumption of paper is still rising and reached 400 million tonnes in 2010. Roughly half of this is consumption by Europe and North America. However, total paper consumption in North America and Europe has been declining since 2006 while it is steeply rising in China. China became the single-largest consumer of paper products in 2009. (9)

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(1) Lovins, Hunter L., Lovins, Amory & Hawken, Paul ‘Natural Capitalism.’ Little Brown & Co., 2008. Quoting Liedtke C., Material Intensity of Paper and Board Production in Western Europe. Fresenius Environmental Bulletin, August 1993.
(2) Making 1 tonne of paper and steel requires 8,000-11,000kWH. USA Environmental Protection Agency.
(3) Forestry causes 17.4% of global climate change emissions, transport causes 13.1%. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Assessment Report 2007, Synthesis Report, page 5: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf.
(4) Taevs, Debra. Recycling’s Pushed ‘Reduce, Reuse’ Out of Equation. Portland Metro Sustainable Industries Journal, June 2005. OECD Environmental Outlook, cited on http://www.environmentalpaper.org/PAPER-statistics.html
(5) 1 trillion pages are binned on the day they are printed, according to Xerox, reported in Guardian Online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2007/oct/14/workandcareers.news
(6) Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, Keynote Address UNEP’s 7th International High Level Seminar on Cleaner Production, 29-30 April 2002.
(7) World Resources Institute Earthtrends data: http://earthtrends.wri.org
(8) Abromovitz and Mattoon, Worldwatch Paper: Paper Cuts, p. 20, 1999.
(9) Environmental Paper Network: The State of the Paper Industry Report 2011, p. 4. http://www.environmentalpaper.org/state-of-the-paper-industry-2011.php also PaperWeb: http://www.paperonweb.com/index.htm
(10) WWF Living Forests Report.
(11) See the EEPN’s discussion document, Paper Vapour.
(12) FAO State of the World’s Forests, 2012.