The pulp and paper industry is the world’s fifth largest industrial consumer of energy and uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry, according to WorldWatch Institute. Paper products that are made from recycled content rather than virgin fiber creates 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution. Unfortunately, the total amount of paper fiber coming from recycled material has grown very slowly, from 20% in 1921 to only about 38% today. One of the things making it hard for the recycled paper industry to really take off is that there’s no universal standard in place for determining what is post-consumer waste and what’s not. Consumers and businesses, unaware of this, make choices with what they think is the best result in mind, but end up buying paper that needs to be shipped from another continent. Another problem is that most companies have an outdated process for manufacturing recycled paper, meaning that most of the effort made to protect the environment is wasted. Before recycled paper existed, paper companies built their factories as close to the raw material — trees — as possible. This means that many paper mills were built in rural areas, far away from the consumers that would use the finished product. Now, for the first time ever, most people live in urban areas, meaning that this is where most of the waste material used in recycled paper is collected. The only problem is that the mills are still operating far away from these urban centers, meaning it must be shipped very long distances to the legacy paper mills — wasting energy and creating pollution the whole way. Even when it gets there, it takes a long time to feed the recycled content into the machinery, most of which wasn’t built to accept recycled material in the first place.
How the Urban Forest Could Revolutionize the Paper Industry
One Chicagoland paper mill is changing the age-old rural mill model by moving paper production to the city.