Changing Paper Consumption
As you read the next paragraph, a forest area the size of 20 football fields will be lost for paper production use alone.(1) In the last year, logging in the Southeastern U.S. resulted in a loss of land about the size of New Jersey (5 million acres). In fact, the area of natural pine forest there has declined in size from 72 million acres in 1953 to 33 million acres in 1999. This is where most of the trees used to make paper come from (an astonishing 26% of the world's supply, to be exact), and it's clearly in critical danger. As if this doesn't sound doomsday-ish enough, global production in the paper sector is expected to increase by 77% between 1995 and 2020.(2)
But this is not just an American problem: "Some brands of school notebooks, copy paper, and filler paper come directly from rainforests in Indonesia, temperate Boreal forests in Canada, and other sensitive ecosystems," says Lafcadio Cortesi, Boreal Forest campaign Director with Forest Ethics. "Many companies making these products are destroying ancient forests and the livelihoods of local communities." In Canada, home to a quarter of the world's remaining ancient temperate rainforests - the most endangered type on earth,(3) logging for paper production has been identified as one of the primary reasons that one out of eight animal species is now at risk of extinction there.(4) Intact forests are also key regulators of climate, and their protection is critical to reduce global warming.
Fortunately, Conservatree, a leading authority on paper recycling in the U.S., contends that the percentage of materials recovered through recycling and composting has been rising in the last decade, and there is no question that the tenets of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot" have wiggled their way into the American vernacular.(5)
The problem is that overall consumption of paper is still rising!
Americans now use about 31.5 million tons of printing and writing paper each year, meaning 660 pounds per person, which requires 535 million trees (most from virgin tree fiber) and 12 billion gallons of oil for its manufacturing. Clearly we as a country need to focus our attention more on the "Reduce" aspect of the 4 R's.
In the landfill, where 80% of discarded paper ends up, the decomposition of paper produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.(6) The EPA cites landfills as the single largest source of methane emissions to the atmosphere, with paper representing about 38% of the municipal solid waste stream. Within schools the percentage of paper in the waste stream is even higher, almost 50%! According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, which analyzes schools' waste on a district-by-district basis, Alameda County schools alone dispose of more than 11,700 tons of paper waste every year. San Diego runs through more than 24,000 tons, and Los Angeles schools go through a whopping 75,600 tons of paper annually.(7)
What Schools Can Do
Significantly reducing paper use is probably the most important part of curbing deforestation and the environmental havoc wreaked by paper production. If we want to create healthy learning environments for our kids now and in the future, then we need to acknowledge that our paper choices at school and home have a deep impact on their well-being. Schools can make enormous contributions by becoming super-conscientious about reducing paper use, recycling paper, and buying recycled paper products. "As consumers, schools can help by buying paper with recycled content and by making sure that the virgin content is not coming from endangered forests," says Cortesi of ForestEthics.
One effective way to get the recycling symbol turning at your school is to integrate the topic into the classroom itself, by encouraging students to investigate the role and importance of forests throughout history, to develop awareness of how their daily choices affect forests, wildlife, and people, and to analyze their options for protecting the remaining threatened forests. In this context, students can undertake a project to analyze the school's paper consumption, its impacts, and options for reducing and recycling.
Students at several schools have used our tools to do a cost-benefit analysis of switching the school to buying recycled paper, educated their community about how to stop junk mail, and more. Here is a link to some curriculum ideas we've already generated, complete with paper audits, calculators to estimate tree, energy, and pollution savings, and homework assignments:
The good news is that for each ton of non-recycled office paper that your school district replaces with 35 percent post-consumer content (which refers to paper that has been used by a consumer previously and then returned to the mill to make more paper), 2,400 pounds less wood will be consumed while keeping the following out of the air and water:(8)
* 734 pounds of greenhouse gases
* 1.5 pounds of nitrous oxides
* 3,500 pounds of toxic effluents
Luckily in California, all government agencies are now required to purchase recycled products whenever they are available at the same or a lesser total cost than non-recycled ones. In regard to paper, at least half the total dollars spent by state agencies on paper must meet a requirement of 30% post-consumer recycled material,(9) although we at Green Schools Initiative recommend always obtaining the highest post-consumer content possible (at least 35%) to err on the most environmentally-friendly side.
As we hope you'll see after checking out some of the helpful sites listed below, recycled paper is more appealing than ever, with manufacturers and retailers providing an almost dizzying array of stationary types, grades, thicknesses, and colors. Of course cost will vary with quantity purchased and paper type, and typically the higher the post-consumer content, the higher the cost. Several of the sites below offer the option to buy in bulk, however, which should make even 100% post-consumer paper cost competitive with the virgin stuff.
How and Where to Buy Recycled Paper
The Green Schools Initiative "Green Schools Buying Guide" provides detailed information on what, where, and how to buy environmentally-preferable products! There's a section for "Green Papers." There is also a section on "Beyond Buying" with lots of ideas for reducing paper use (electronic school forms and Board documents), making hand-made recycled paper, and more.
Other options to simplify your school's search for recycled paper include:
California's Contract with Office Depot: The State of California has a new contract with National Office Solutions to provide office supplies to government agencies - including schools - at discounted prices, in small and bulk amounts. All local and state agencies are eligible to buy these products. A broad range of supplies is offered but this is an especially great way to buy your (state-required) recycled paper.
Recycled Products Cooperative: The overall volume that the Co-op represents has motivated the RPC's suppliers to provide recycled paper and office products at significantly reduced rates. Membership in the Co-op is convenient, easy, and open to businesses, public entities and individuals. There are no membership fees, and bulk purchases do not need to be made to receive competitive pricing. You can be eligible for discounts in buying 10 cases or more by contacting the Coop at 1-800-694-8355.
Green Earth Office Supply: (online only) sells recycled lined notebooks, recycled and tree-free paper, recycled binders (even ones made of old circuit boards!).
The Green Office: (online only) sells a range of recycled copy paper, notebooks, stationery, and specialty paper, as well as other office supplies, at competitive prices. An advantage is that The Green Office offsets the carbon emissions for delivery of your order, and also offers an on-line "office footprint calculator" to help you determine the environmental impacts of your purchases and practices.
Treecycle: An online retailer with a hearty environmental emphasis, offering a variety of office supplies and products which "significantly reduce the use of virgin resources, reduce energy consumption and water pollution, and reduce waste going to landfills and incinerators."
Center for a New American Dream has an excellent buying guide. Look under specific items, such as paper, pencils, or backpacks, for sources, guidance, and general information.
Co-op America: The pages about WoodWise, a program about "Economic Action to End Deforestation," provide a ton of interesting facts and resources about paper consumption, recycling, and what you can do.
ForestEthics has a lot of information about how to protect forests by changing the market for paper and the suppliers of forest products, through their campaigns to get catalogs to use recycled paper, to protect Canada's Boreal forest, and to promote sustainable forest management globally.