Paper

Each year, the world produces more than 300 million tons of paper. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, printing and writing papers typically found in a school or office environment such as copier paper, computer printouts and notepads, comprise the largest category of paper product consumption. This is an alarming figure considering the advanced technology of today’s world that is specifically designed to help offices go paperless.

Paper Consumption – The United States

The United States and Canada are the world’s largest producers of paper and paper products. Understanding the facts about paper consumption – especially within the U.S. – is the first step in the transition to a paperless environment.

• In the last 20 years, the usage of paper products has increased from 92 million tons to 208 million, which is a growth of 126%.
• In 1997 the total world paper and paperboard production was 299,044 metric tons. It would take about 200,000 Volkswagen Beetle cars to equal this weight.
• Americans still consume more paper per capita – upwards of 500 lbs. annually – than anyone else on earth. On average, a person in the United States uses more than 700 pounds of paper every year.
• Paper in the U.S. represents one of the biggest components of solid waste in landfills – 26 million tons (or 16% of landfill solid waste) in 2009.
• The average person in the United States at the end of the last decade consumed as much paper as 6 people combined in Asia or more than 30 people in Africa.
• The U.S. uses approximately 68 million trees each year to produce paper and paper products.
• The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population yet consumes more than 30% of the world’s paper.

Paper Consumption – In the Office

Lowering paper usage at the office can result in higher efficiency measures and increased productivity levels throughout an organization. Changes in paper consumption can include increasing recycling efforts, printing less or even going paperless with document management software. Doing so could provide inspiration to employees as well as large monetary savings for your organization.

• The average office worker continues to use a staggering 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year.
• 45% of the paper printed in offices ends up trashed by the end of the day – this daily lifespan occurs for over a trillion sheets of paper per year, worldwide.
• In the U.S., companies spend more than $120 billion a year on printed forms, most of which outdate themselves within three months’ time.
• A typical employee spends 30-40% of his time looking for information locked in email and filing cabinets – filing costs average about $20 per month.
• The average document is copied 9 to 11 times and every 12 filing cabinets require an additional employee to maintain.
• Each four-drawer file cabinet holds an average of 10,000 to 12,000 documents, takes up to 9 square feet of floor space and costs $1,500 per year.
• Each misfiled document costs $125. Each lost document cost $350 to $700 – large organizations lose a document every 12 seconds.
• More than 70% of today’s businesses would fail within three weeks if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records due to fire or flood.
• Paper in the average business grows by 22% a year, meaning your paper will double in 3.3 years.

Paper Consumption – The Environment

Recycling is important – however, while recycling does keep paper from the landfills, it does not necessarily save the environment. Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. Seven to ten times through is about the maximum before the fibers break down. There will always be a need for wood pulp to be added to the recycled. Understanding the disastrous negative effects paper consumption has on our environment can help encourage the world to use less of it.

• Worldwide the pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for 4% of all the world’s energy use.
• Over 60% of the roughly 17 billion cubic feet of timber harvested worldwide each year is used for paper and pulp.
• The paper industry uses more water to product a ton of product than any other industry.
• Discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35% by weight of municipal solid waste.
• Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year.
• 40% of the world’s industrial logging goes into making paper, and this is expected to reach 50% in the near future
• Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400% in the last 40 years with 35% of harvested trees being used for paper manufacture.
• An estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year, equaling a loss of 20 football fields every minute.
• Loss of forests contributes between 12 and 17% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
• If the current rate of deforestation continues, it will take less than 100 years to destroy all the rainforests on the earth.

The environmental impact of paper is largely significant. Due to our history of voluminous paper consumption, serious efforts are needed to ensure that the environment is protected. The past is gone, but we still have time to change our future. With the use of modern technology such as document management software, electronic forms creators and mobile devices, we can drastically reduce our dependence on paper.

Sources:
Forest Ethics – www.forestethics.org/paper-the-facts
Environmental Paper Network – www.environmentalpaper.org
World Resources Institute – www.wri.org

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