The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) is calling on businesses to change their attitude to paper during Green Office Week (22-26 April) by shredding the misconceptions they have about paper.
Day in, day out, we are faced with messages about the harm that paper does to our environment. More often than not, these messages can be found in two places: at the bottom of emails and from service providers informing you of their move from postal to electronic distribution of documents.
Keeping it on screen is not going green
“While the paper industry cannot swim against the digital tide and the convenience of receiving such documents electronically, the electronic distribution of information should not be touted as being more environmentally friendly than print,” says Jane Molony, PAMSA executive director.
In fact, reading a document on screen produces more carbon dioxide (CO2) than printing out the same document. A printed document can be read over again without further emissions and can also be recycled, according to a 2006 study by Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the Government Economic Service in the United Kingdom.
The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change tackled the effects of climate change and global warming on the world economy. Stern used his 700-page document to demonstrate how paper and print have a better environmental footprint than electronic communication.
- Printing the Stern Review emits 85g of CO2 (one copy can be read over and over again without further emissions).
- Reading it on a computer for one hour emits 226g of CO2 every time.
- Burning the Stern Review to CD is estimated to emit 300g of CO2 for every copy
- Burning it to DVD is estimated to emit 350g of CO2 for every copy
Further to this, in September last year the New York Times stated, “The [information] industry has long argued that computerising business transactions and everyday tasks like banking and reading library books has the net effect of saving energy and resources.”
Quoting Power, Pollution, and the Internet, the New York Times asserts that the energy consumption of massive data centres is ‘sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness’.
E-waste is the fastest growing component in the municipal stream
Greenpeace has identified electronic waste as the fastest growing component of the municipal waste steam”[i].
Hans Wegner, chief sustainability officer of the National Geographic Society notes, “We don’t know the environmental impact of saving a document on a server for ten years or more. And we have no idea of the impact of extracting finite resources to make electronic devices that cannot easily be recycled safely and practically.”
But what about all the trees that are killed to make paper?
Few people realise that all paper in South Africa is produced from plantation-grown trees, recycled paper or bagasse (sugar-cane fibre). Some 600 million trees across 762,000 hectares are specifically farmed for use in pulp and paper manufacturing, just as maize was planted for your cereal and wheat for your bread.
“Contrary to popular and often misinformed belief, the fibre used to make paper products is not sourced from the wood of rainforests, indigenous or common garden trees,” notes Molony.
As massive sinks for atmospheric carbon, forests mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen through the natural process of photosynthesis. South Africa’s timber plantations lock up 900 million tons a year of CO2, which is a massive environmental service and a key means of mitigating climate change[ii].
If it were not for the pulp and paper industry operating world-wide for the last 150 years the CO2 levels in the atmosphere would be 5% higher (about 0.5 degree) than they are at present[iii].
Over 80% of South African plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), ranking it as the highest level of international certification in the world. FSC’s Chain of Custody tracks certified material through the production process – from the forest to the consumer, including all successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing and distribution.
Please consider the environment before NOT printing this
“While PAMSA certainly does not advocate wasteful printing, we ask that paper and printing, and the environment, be treated with respect.”
PAMSA’s Green Office Week Tips
- Buy locally manufactured paper that is FSC-certified. This way you can be assured that the paper is produced from sustainably managed plantations.
- Recycle your paper, keeping it dry and away from other waste and have it collected regularly. Visit www.mywaste.co.za
- Be responsible with your electronic waste. Do your research and find reputable e-waste recycling companies that you know will handle your old computers and printers with the environment in mind.
[i] Greenpeace, The E-waste Problem 2009
[ii] Forestry South Africa, 2011
[iii] Special Report No 07-02, February 2007. The greenhouse gas and carbon profile of the global forest products industry. NCASI (National Council for Air and Stream Improvement)