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What Are the Effects of Printing Paper on the Environment?

Printing paper pollution

Advanced technology in the paper manufacturing and printing press industries has given rise to affordable disposable printing paper products. This affordability has resulted in increased consumption and wastage of printing paper.

Additionally, there is more to printing paper that meets the eye.  In every piece of paper, there is a fallen tree, air pollution, and more. These are some of the factors you need to consider when using printing paper.

However, modern consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, and paper products are less necessary by the day.

Types Of Printing Paper

There are various types of printing paper you can use for print media. They are different in composition, weight, thickness, and design.  The three popular types include; –

Matte Coated 

Besides being easy to write on, the matte paper also has a dull surface that reflects light evenly, minimizing glare. It is profitable for print media such as magazines, books, and brochures.

Gloss Paper 

It has a smooth tactile feel and high shine. These features make it an ideal choice for printing leaflets and flyers.

Silk Coated 

It is in-between gloss and matte coated and is an excellent paper to print on. Additionally, this paper has a smooth feel but doesn’t have a shine.

What Industries Use Printing Paper the Most?

You are unlikely to find a business that does not use printing paper. However, some use it more than others. Paper consumption (including printing paper) in the U.S has steadily increased over the past 20 years.

Legal Industry

Research indicates that the law industry is the highest consumer of printing paper. It states that a single lawyer produces from 20,000 – 100,000 printed pages per year.  On the higher end, it means 50 pages an hour.

Medical Industry

Medical institutions still find it necessary to print out research data for educational purposes within the industry. Furthermore, the Medical Industry deals with intensive administrative paperwork to help resolve health issues in hospitals and other health facilities. Research shows that a single user in the medical industry prints 36.5 pages per day.

Accounting Industry

According to research, a single user in this industry uses about 35.5 printed pages per day. The majority of financial documents must be printed out even after being completed electronically.  More so, accountants also have large volumes of administrative paperwork when transacting with clients.

Is Printing Paper Good?

Overconsumption of paper is unfavorable for the environment and can lower your company’s green credentials. Today, more and more employees prefer to work for businesses that put great importance on sustainability.  Likewise, consumers tend to favor environmentally friendly brands over those that are not.

According to environmental statistics, 40% of all waste in the U.S comes from paper. More so, paper production negatively impacts the world we live in by contributing to deforestation, acid rain, and greenhouse gases.

Effects of Printing Paper – Manufacturing 

The process of paper production begins by killing a tree.  Research estimates show that an average office of 10-15 employees uses enough printing paper, which equals chopping down 18 large trees a year. According to a survey, the U.S is one of the world’s largest consumers of paper.

However, some manufacturers will argue that for every tree hewed, the millers’ plant several more. Some will even say that companies invest in tree planting with the intention of paper production as much as some of these arguments may make sense. The majority of businesses are in the race to ‘go green’ to help avoid the following effects on the environment.

Deforestation

Cutting down trees for paper production is one of the reasons that cause deforestation. Statistics indicated that the U.S paper industry cuts down about 68 million trees every year. 

Further research also reveals that the American publishers and printing press industries produce 350 million magazines, 24 billion newspapers, and 2 billion books per year. Moreover, an average office employee will use about 9,000 sheets of A4 printing paper (more than one tree) per year. 

Deforestation Affects Soil 

Deforestation is a global issue that negatively affects the habitat and causes numerous soil problems for the local community. Environmentalists state that out of all the trees cut down globally, 42% goes to the paper industry. Out of this figure, the U.S produces over 26,000 tons of printing paper and products per year. 

Paper production involves harvesting wood. This process negatively affects the habitat by causing issues like soil erosion. The topsoil can easily wash away if not properly anchored. How do trees hold the soil in place? Large trees have a larger capacity to hold the clay because they have strong and broad roots.

Effects of Soil Erosion 

Rainwater can wash down large amounts of soil when paper milling companies cut down trees in a vast area. This situation can lead to disastrous issues like mudslides, damage to irrigation and hydroelectric structures.

More so, washing away soil can cause farming complications and disruption of steady electric power supply.

Biodiversity Losses

Living beings adapt to new environments as a means to survival. This behavior happens whether it is in the arctic or the desert. Even so, some species take time to adjust to the changes. 

Today, paper millers can cut trees in a vast area within weeks and transform forests into bare land in 5-7 days. Timber is quickly cut down and delivered to paper mills. These logistics happen courtesy of state-of-the-art wood cutting technology, high-performing heavy-duty trucks, and good roads.

When timber vendors alter land too quickly, many plants and animals may not survive. The ecosystem can lose entire species in a few weeks. 

GreenHouse Gases

A large percentage of waste found in landfills consists of paper. These include discarded printed paper from printing press companies, institutions, homes, and other businesses.

Waste Paper

When the waste paper decays, it emits one of the greenhouse gases known as methane. Furthermore, burning or composting the waste paper produces carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, which causes climate change.

Dead Trees 

Healthy living trees filter greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and release water and oxygen in the airspace. When companies cut down many trees for paper production, it humpers the removal of carbon dioxide from the air. 

However, a cut-down tree releases the carbon dioxide stored in the trunk and leaves into the atmosphere. This situation leads to a buildup of greenhouse gases.  It further contributes to global climate change, which negatively affects animals, trees, crops, and humans.

Acid Rain 

What are the causes of acid rain?  Sulfur dioxide (S02) and nitrogen oxide (N0x).  Acid rain is any form of water or rare matter, which contains these compounds that fall from the sky to the ground. It can be rain, fog, snow, hail, or even dust.

Some of the compounds emitted during paper manufacturing include nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide(S02) from paper manufacturing is one of the contributors to acid rain.  

Acid Rain Effects on Aquatic Environment

The effects of acid rain are experienced in streams, lakes, and mashes. Besides contaminating these environments, it also harms marine life and other wildlife.

More so, acid rainwater drains aluminum from the soil and carries it into streams and lakes. The results of aluminum absorption from soil drain into rivers. Eventually, the contaminated river water, in turn, makes lake water toxic to fish and other organisms that drink from or live in the water.

 Manufacturing more paper leads to more acid rain and more aluminum released in aquatic environments.

Acid Rain on Plants and Trees

Areas prone to acid rain often have poor vegetation because aluminum is harmful to plants and trees. More so, when acid rainwater floods or runs over the ground, it removes minerals and other nutrients from the soil. This action causes poor vegetation, and trees may stagnate or die from a lack of nutrients.

Furthermore, trees in hilly environments are exposed to damage by acid fog and clouds. These acidic elements can strip nutrients from foliage and deprive the trees of the nutrients needed for growth. A tree with dead or needle-like leaves can not absorb sunlight, which results in weakness or subsequent death of the tree.

Episodic Acidification

Sporadic heavy acid rain or melting snow can result in episodic acidification. Water bodies that naturally do not have high acidity levels may be affected by the sudden flowing of acid rainwater. This brief period of higher acidity can cause short-term stress on the aquatic environment where various species may be harmed or killed.

Consequences of Acid Rain on Materials 

Acid deposition can sometimes fall from the sky to the ground in the form of dust particles. As mentioned earlier, the paper manufacturing process emits Sulfur dioxide (S02). When released into the atmosphere, it contributes to the formation of acid rain.

Buildings, cars, statues, and other surfaces experience corrosion when they encounter dry, acidic particles and acid rain.

Air Pollution

air pollution

The air is polluted when volatile sulfur compounds are emitted and expelled in the air during paper production.  Other compounds released in the atmosphere during this process include dimethyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide, and methyl mercaptan.

Indoor Air Pollution

Air pollution does not only occur during the paper production process. In the U.S and other regions, commercial presses print newspapers every day. But even with advanced printing technology, machines and men still work together in the press rooms.

Newspapers and other print productions contribute to indoor air pollution by emitting toxic substances during printing. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are expelled in the air and employees working space.

These toxic compounds reduce the quality of air for indoor personnel. Over-exposure to VOCs can cause workers to experience severe health issues such as liver damage, loss of coordination, memory impairment, headaches, and more.

Land Pollution

A report by the Environment Paper Network indicates that paper that goes to the landfill is equivalent to about 640 million trees. 

What happens to the paper in the landfill? Paper takes approximately 2-6 weeks to decompose in landfills. Even so, it is one of the waste types that companies dump in landfills every so often. This process makes the landfill a constant hazard to the environment.

The solvent wastes released from decomposing paper come in contact with plants and through ground or flood-waters.

Water Cycle Disruption

Cutting down large numbers of trees to manufacture printing paper disrupts the water cycle. How? Water from the Earth’s surface evaporates and forms clouds. Trees and other vegetation draw out groundwater and release it into the atmosphere by photosynthesis. Eventually, heavy clouds produce rain, which goes back to the water cycle.

Cutting down trees from a wide area means water is no longer available in the airspace. Without live trees, water can not be extracted, stored, and released. In some cases, this condition can lead to desertification which may cause fires on peatlands. 

How Can You Reduce the Use of Printing Paper?

Sometimes it is unavoidable to use printed material. However, businesses that want to go greener can utilize a specific printing device for all office print jobs.

Use a Duplex Feature

More so, you can choose printers that allow automatic duplex tools that enable you to print on both sides of a printing paper. This feature helps you save on paper usage, which also preserves a tree.

Discourage Printing

Employers can make printing an exception and not a rule. Some workers print documents because it is easier to carry a few pages of printed paper than a laptop. However, you can help reduce the usage of printing paper by providing personnel with other alternatives like tablets to access communication. 

What is the Alternative to Printing Paper?

an ebook on a kindle reading device

It may not be easy or even possible to eliminate the use of printing paper. However, individuals and businesses can minimize paper usage by going paperless.

Email/Messaging

You can eliminate physical memos and other official notifications by sending your documents through email. Paperless statements and bills can save trees and contribute to a greener economy.

Electronic Filing

Businesses that have adopted electronic filing experience improved productivity and also help the environment.  It is much faster than manual filling and saves on space, time, and money.

Conclusion

When you walk into a traditional office space, you will likely see a printer and printing paper. The state-of-the-art printer and neatly stacked reams of paper may not look anything close to harmful. However, the excessive use of printing paper leads to wastage, higher demand, deforestation, greenhouse gases, acid rain, and lower green credentials for your company.

Even so, all is not doom and gloom. You can reduce the effects of printing paper on the environment by going paperless in the office space.

Businesses and individuals can digitize paper operations by using digital platforms to send electronic memos, notifications, cards, photos, advertisements, and other print media. Most importantly, paperless documents help save a tree, are secure, easy to store and share.



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