Even though we live in an electronic age, the consumption of paper worldwide remains surprisingly high. In fact, the demand for paper is expected to double by 2030.
People and companies are beginning to go paperless, but paper is still all around us – packages, books, newspapers, wrappings… Once a rare material, today paper floods our planet and (sadly) humans are still totally dependent on it!
How Much Paper Do We Use Globally?
In 2014, paper production on a global level was more than 405 million metric tons. The largest part of this was paper packaging and cardboard, while the rest was writing and printing paper, which is commonly used in offices and schools.
The largest paper consumer in the world is China, with over 100 million metric tons a year, followed by the USA and Japan. These 3 countries alone produce 50% of the worlds paper!
Paper Consumption in the United States
The United States consumes more than 208 million tons of paper annually. In the last two decades, paper consumption has increased by more than 125%
With each individual consuming 487 lb. paper per year, the paper consumption per capita in the United States is the highest in the world. Just for comparison, the average per capita paper consumption worldwide is 125 lb. This means that the United States consumes 30% of the world’s paper annually.
In the Office
One office worker uses an average of 10.000 sheets of copy paper per year, or a total of 12 trillion sheets per year, out of which almost half ends up in the trash.
Companies in the US spend over 120 billion dollars on printed forms per year. Most of these forms will be outdated in a period of 3 months.
Environmental Impacts of Using so Much Paper
The production of paper requires cutting trees. In the USA, the number of trees cut down for this purpose is about 68 million a year. On a global level, almost 15% of the total wood harvested is used to produce paper.
This means paper production is one of the main causes of deforestation, the second largest factor for climate change.
In addition, the process of producing paper also requires great amounts of water. To be more precise, a single A4 sheet of paper requires 10 pints of water!
Another serious problem caused by our mindless use of paper is pollution. Paper makes up about 25% of landfill waste and one-third of the total trash in households.
The use of chlorine bleaches in the production process makes paper the third biggest polluter of water, soil, and air! Finally, when paper starts rotting, it releases methane, a gas more dangerous than carbon dioxide!
Can We Avoid Using Paper?
Considering that a single tree produces enough oxygen for three people and that trees protect our planet from global warming, we can’t help but wonder – is paper really worth destroying life-saving trees?
People are only just beginning to understand what the use of paper actually means for our environment and have started developing solutions to reduce waste and pollution.
Recycling one ton of paper saves about 17 trees, 6.600 gallons of water, and more than 680 gallons of oil.
The good news is that many paper-production companies in the United States have modified the process of paper production in order to decrease the emissions of cancer-causing dioxins.
Moreover, a number of paper-production companies have also focused on alternative paper sources such as fibre crops, agricultural residues, and textiles in order to avoid cutting down trees.
Each individual can also contribute to paper recycling.
Here is what you can do:
- Start by recycling all the paper waste in your household and in the office.
- Avoid using disposable paper plates and cups.
- Exercise your power as a consumer by supporting companies with environment-friendly products and boycotting brands that are cutting down forests to make their products.
- Try to buy 100% recycled and chlorine-free paper products and materials.
- In the office, try to use email in the communication with colleagues and customers whenever possible.
- Keep all your files, documents, and notes on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer.
Let’s look at this problem from another perspective – the use of paper can seriously affect your efficiency in the workplace:
- A typical office worker spends between 30% and 40% of their time looking for documents kept in filing cabinets.
- If there were a catastrophe such as a flood or fire, about 70% of businesses would fail in a period of three weeks!
If you go paperless, losing valuable information will no longer be an issue. In addition, all your documents will be stored, indexed, and well-organized, making it easy to access, retrieve, share, or email all your documents anytime and anywhere.
You can read more about your company surviving the paperless transition here.