Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Where does your paper come from?

I am delighted to introduce the first guest post on Paper, Pens and Ink! It's Millie from over at Planet Millie, who is part of the Philofaxy All Stars Blogging Team.

This year is the International Year of Forests.  What does that mean for the paper that you use every day?

Paper is most commonly manufactured from trees (although there is a small market for papers made from animal dung, fruits and other items).  Many people automatically assume that this is very bad for the environment.  Images pop into mind of vast swathes of rainforest chopped down by large corporations who care nothing for either the ecosystems or the livelihoods they're destroying.  The reality is very different.

11% of the timber produced throughout the world at present is used to make paper (the FAO monitor forestry across the world, on behalf of the UN).  Whilst a percentage of timber for paper production is likely coming from illegal sources, the biggest threat to rainforests is land clearance and felling for wood-fuel.

If your paper was manufactured in Western Europe using Western European materials you can be fairly certain that it was made sustainably due to EU and state legislation, but internationally there are several different accreditation schemes for paper.

The most popular certificate for timber products is the FSC scheme: any timber product carrying this logo is guaranteed to have been produced ethically and sustainably.  This is a worldwide scheme, so you can find these products internationally.  Each certificate has a number so that you can follow the production of your item, thus ensuring accountability at each step of the process (this is called the Chain of Custody).  Other certificates include PEFC certificates and World Land Trust certificates (these certificates are interesting because they promise carbon "balanced" paper!).

Some companies do not openly publicise their certification, but a quick look through their small print will show that they are signed up to codes of practice (examples here include Clairefontaine, who get their timber from PEFC certified woods and Moleskine, who are FSC-certified.  Neither company publishes their accreditation logo on their notebooks).

Whilst it's not always necessary to use paper made from virgin fibre (i.e. paper that has no recycled content), anyone doing so should not feel guilty.  If there was not a market for paper products, the timber industry would be considerably smaller than it currently is (11% smaller!).  There would be no demand to manage these woods sustainably and many would likely be felled to make way for new developments.  Whilst it seems counter-intuitive, the demand for timber-based products ensures that many woods are kept as working woods, and where products carry certification you can rest easy that you are supporting the environment.  Wood-based products are usually good for the environment - sustainably-managed forests absorb carbon dioxide, support an ecosystem, can be used to manage flooding and wind damage, clean the air of pollutants and give us something pretty to enjoy!

Personally, I see the use of paper in the 21st century as very much in keeping with the International Year of Forests.  I use certified notebooks and I'm happy knowing that I'm supporting sustainable forestry whilst meeting my own needs.  I try not to waste paper and always recycle it when I'm finished, and so as a consumer I carry on the cycle of sustainable paper production. The trees are happy and I am happy, and you should be happy too!


  1. Thanks Millie and Amanda! This was very interesting to read. I think it is a very relevant issue of today, and I always find it funny when people say they want a 'paper free office'- I don't think they realise how much energy their computers and other gadgets use, and how much worse this would be in comparison with using sustainably-sourced paper! Imagine having to have a computer on for 30 minutes to consult a particular document, and the electricity that would use. And then imagine the 2 minutes electricity it would use just to print that document off, after which you can turn your computer off. A paperless office is not always a good thing. But personally, I do enjoy writing with a good old-fashioned pen and paper :)

  2. Thanks Mille and Amanda! I have learnt so much from this article. Never really considered these points before (& I am guilty of not acknowledging how much energy all these gadgets utilise). I am also a good old-fashioned pen and paper girl too.

  3. Hello Amanda,

    nice post about the environmental impact of paper. However it is not complete. People always think of the poor trees being chopped down and your statements about sustainability adressed that subject very well.

    But the process of producing paper is a bit longer and the environmental impact of the whole production chain is larger: for example a lot of chemicals are used in the process of making pulp (one step before paper) and depending on the company and country where the pulp mill is located the chemicals are sometimes discharged without further cleaning or treatment.

    The same applies for the actual papermaking. Even if a lot of recycled paper is used this cannot happen without substantial addition of chemicals. And finally there is the printing process to be considered.

    As always in real life the decision based on an environmental balance is not an easy one to make for the end consumer since it always involves a lot of process steps that are not evident.

    The obvious answer is long term use of any product you aquire. If you get a new smartphone every year then you can rest assured, that this will not be environmentally friendly, same applies for people who print a zillion drafts of every document and then throw the pages away immediately after reading...

    Just don't worry too much!