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43 Paper Waste Facts That Everybody Should Know

Jeanne Perrine

Feb 23, 2022

paper waste facts

It's tough to imagine modern life without paper. However, the number of adverse environmental effects associated with its manufacture, usage, and disposal is alarming.

Paper production is the third most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries and hence puts stress on our natural resources, which is only a part of the problem.

Below are 43 facts about paper waste that will enlighten you about the issue.

1. The world currently uses around 400 million tons of paper per year.

It is typically used to make money, cardboard boxes, receipts, coffee cups, stick-on notes, baking paper, egg cartons, birthday cards, straws, wrapping paper, and so on (Gorvett, 2019).

2. The total amount of paper and paperboard generated in the US municipal solid waste (MSW) was 67.4 million tons in 2018.

This amount represented 23.1% of MSW generation that year (US EPA, 2022).

3. In 2018, the US landfills received 17.2 million tons of MSW paper and paperboard.

This represented 11.8% of MSW landfilled in 2018 (US EPA, 2022).

4. Americans use 85,000,000 tons of paper a year.

This is approximately 680 pounds per person (University of Southern Indiana, 2022).

5. The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees.

This amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year (University of Southern Indiana, 2022).

6. Approximately 1billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the US (University of Southern Indiana, 2022).

7. In 1993, US paper recovery saved more than 90,000,000 cubic yards of landfill space (University of Southern Indiana, 2022).

Paper recovery also helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change by avoiding methane emissions and reducing the energy required for many paper products (US EPA, 2016).

8. Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water.

This is equivalent to 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less air pollution (University of Southern Indiana, 2022).

9. If you had a 15-year-old tree and made it into paper grocery bags, you would get about 700 of them. A busy supermarket could use all of them in under an hour!

This means in a single year, one supermarket can go through over 6 million paper bags. Imagine how many supermarkets there are in the United States (University of Southern Indiana, 2022).

10. Paper makes up 40% of waste landfilled in the US.

This means nearly half of US landfills are recyclable. Yet, paper is still trashed with the non-recyclables (Lanier, 2021).

11. One document is photocopied 19 times in its lifespan.

Businesses rely on delivering paperwork in a timely fashion. This implies photocopying important documents and mailing them out to recipients.

While this is the conventional way of doing business, it's quickly becoming a negative impact on our planet.

Nineteen times photocopied during its lifespan: a lot of paper is created per document, especially when there are more sustainable ways of sending out paperwork. By far, the most efficient way is to scan and email documents instead of photocopying and mailing them (Lanier, 2021).

12. 4 million tons of junk mail go to landfills every year in the US.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sees this as an issue to resolve, stating that more than 50% of junk mail ends up in landfills every year. One solution to this problem would be companies coming up with a personalized approach to their marketing strategy that does not involve paper (Lanier, 2021).

13. American businesses use 21 million tons of paper annually.

In America, businesses produce 21 million tons of paper waste each year (Lanier, 2021).

14. 380 gallons of oil are used for every ton of paper produced.

Many countries and businesses are looking for ways to lessen their carbon footprint by switching to green alternatives (Lanier, 2021).

15. More than 199 tons of paper is produced in 15 seconds (The World Counts, 2022).

The demand for global paper consumption is expected to double by 2030 (Yusoff et al, 2022).

16. 324 liters of water is used to make 1 kilogram of paper (The World Counts, 2022).

10 liters of water is required to make one piece of A4 paper (The World Counts, 2022).

17. It requires 75,000 trees to print a Sunday edition of the New York Times (The World Counts, 2022).

Recycling a single run of the Sunday New York Times would hence save 75,000 trees. Moreover, it takes 12 trees to create one ton of newspaper for paper used for newspaper (Ford, 2019).

18. US offices use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper a year (The World Counts, 2022).

That is a lot of unnecessary waste. We can eliminate paper from office processes by introducing digital workflows, content management systems and cloud-based storage (Docusign, 2020).

19. With the amount of paper wasted each year, a 12 foot high wall of paper can be built from New York to California (The World Counts, 2022).

Most of this paper ends up in landfills as municipal waste (Wipebook, 2018).

20. Lessening of paper was predicted due to the electronic revolution. It did not happen.

Demand for paper is expected to double before 2030 (The World Counts, 2022).

21. Every tree produces enough oxygen for 3 people to breathe (The World Counts, 2022).

A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people in a year. A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings (Helmenstine, 2019).

22. The land is being deforested at a rate of 6.5 million hectares per year (Melo, 2019).

Between 1990 and 2015, 129 million hectares of forest were lost globally, an area about the size of South Africa (Kilgore, 2022).

23. North Americans and Europeans use more than 200kg of paper each per year (Melo, 2019).

Africa's per capita paper consumption was 8kg in 2016 (Statista, 2021).

24. Recycling paper requires 30% of the electrical energy and 70% of the water that would typically be needed to produce it from wood (Melo, 2019).

25. Global loss of tropical forests contributed about 4.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year (Melo, 2019).

This is equivalent to about 8-10% of annual human emissions of carbon dioxide (Climate Council, 2018).

26. Paper production is the third most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries, using over 12% of all energy in the industrial sector (Melo, 2019).

27. Families in the UK throw away 6.3 million tons of paper each year (West Lothian Council, nd).

28. The average person in the UK gets through 38 Kg of newspaper every year (West Lothian Council, nd).

According to an independent report, the recycled content of newsprint used to publish local and national newspapers stood at 71% in 2016 (News Media Association, 2016).

29. Only 7 days is required to recycle a newspaper into a new one (West Lothian Council, nd).

30. Every year, people in the UK use 12.5 million tons of paper and cardboard.

That is the same weight as 3 million African elephants (West Lothian Council, nd).

31. In the UK, a forest the size of Wales is needed to produce all the paper being used (West Lothian Council, nd).

32. Paper and cardboard account for one-fifth of all waste produced in the UK (West Lothian Council, nd).

33. Around 40% of all deforestation is caused by the paper and pulp industries (Chamunorwa, 2022).

China is the largest paper producer worldwide. The country produced 110 million metric tons of paper and cardboard in 2018 and has been producing the largest volume of paper worldwide each year ever since 2009 (Statista, 2021). The United States is the second-largest paper producer country globally (World Wildlife Fund, 2022).

34. High-grade paper comprises most of the paper waste in the US.

It also requires most trees to produce (Green Journal, 2021).

35. 40% of the UK population still use paper-based communication.

Most electronic formats complement hard copies instead of replacing them (Rinkesh, 2022).

36. The United States alone, with less than 5% of the global population, uses 30% of the planet's paper (Rinkesh, 2022).

37. 71% of the world's paper comes from timber harvested from forests instead of tree farms (Gaille, 2017).

38. More than 1.4 million hectares of natural forest have been replaced by tree plantations and farms since 1989 (Gaille, 2017).

Adverse effects of tree plantations include the fact that they generally produce low-quality timber for making disposable paper products. They also take away local people's land, destroy diversity, deplete water resources and pollute streams and wetlands with pesticides and other agrochemicals (Global Forest Coalition, 2022).

39. When paper rots, it emits methane gas.

Methane is 25 times more toxic than carbon dioxide (The World Counts, 2022).

40. China, one of the leading players in the paper trade, used 3.35 billion tons (about 3 trillion liters) of water in 2014 for the paper production process.

That is enough for about 37 billion baths (Gorvett, 2019).

41. One study revealed that the global paper industry uses 6.4 exajoules (EJ) of energy each year.

That is enough to make 87 trillion cups of tea. All that energy also means that paper contributes 2% of the world's total carbon footprint (Gorvett, 2019).

42. The world made 25% more paper and paperboard in 2017 than in 2000.

The amount of energy used went up by 5%. This is partly due to new technologies and the increase in recycling (Gorvett, 2019).

43. An ordinary sheet of paper made from cellulose fibers derived from wood can be recycled 4 to 6 times only.

The EPA puts the figure at 5 to 7 times (Ray, 2010).

Conclusion

The paper manufacturing process uses tons of natural resources every day, and we must find ways to use and waste less paper.

Simple actions like emailing a document instead of sending out a hardcopy or buying recycled paper instead of non-recycled paper go a long way. Together, we can reduce the amount of paper reaching landfills globally.

 
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Jeanne Perrine

Jeanne Perrine is a Sustainability Consultant who provides consultancy services in the strategic planning and management of sustainability programs. She holds a master’s degree in Sustainability Science. Jeanne was the first Fulbright Scholar from her home island (Rodrigues) and proudly represented the island during her time in the US. In her free time, Jeanne enjoys a good hike, listening to music, and working out.

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