Getting the facts straight about paper
World Environment Day message from the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa
World Environment Day is one of the days in the year where we receive a flood of ‘green’ messages about saving precious resources such as water and energy, buying less and recycling more and living in a sustainable way so we can ensure the health of our planet. While a number of these messages are well meaning, there are certain messages that perpetuate long-held misconceptions about the paper industry: that paper kills trees and that our paper consumption threatens rainforests.
The Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) would like to set the record straight for the South African context with the following facts:
Paper is made from farmed trees.
- All paper in South Africa is produced from plantation-grown trees, recycled paper or bagasse (sugar cane fibre). Plantation-grown trees are farmed for paper, just as maize is planted for cereals and wheat for bread.
- Our fibre is not sourced from the wood of rainforests, indigenous or boreal trees. This is a myth, often wrongfully perpetuated by e-mail footnotes.
- In South Africa, 600 million trees across 762,000 hectares are specifically grown for use in pulp and paper manufacture and the industry plants in excess of 260,000 trees every single day.
- The industry has made significant advances in terms of environmental sustainability over recent decades. The use of renewable biomass-based energy has enabled the industry to avoid the use of 1,3 million tons of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas annually and therefore the associated carbon emissions.
Timber plantations help fight climate change.
- Plantations are atmospheric carbon sinks which mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) and releasing oxygen through the natural process of photosynthesis.
- South Africa’s timber plantations, which cater for pulp and paper, furniture and other wood based-products, lock up 900 million tons of CO2— a key environmental service and a means of mitigating climate change. (Forestry South Africa, 2011)
- Only 9% of the total plantation area is harvested annually. This is replanted within the same year. Only mature trees are harvested.
- Carbon absorption continues as the new trees grow and young trees are able to absorb carbon more rapidly than the older trees. These trees, and thus paper products, are a renewable resource.
- Interestingly, 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 half a degree in Celsius) than they are at present. This is according to the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Special Report on the greenhouse gas and carbon profile of the global forest products industry published in February 2007.
- South Africa has the highest level of international certification of its plantations in the world. Over 80% of South African plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
- PAMSA members – Kimberly-Clark, Nampak, Mondi, Mpact and Sappi – subscribe to the FSC’s Chain of Custody which tracks FSC-certified material through the production process – from the forest to the consumer, including all successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing and distribution.
- Consumers should look out for paper and wood products bearing the FSC mark of certification.
Recycling is rewarding.
- An important reason for paper recycling is that it extends the period over which the carbon in the paper is locked out of the atmosphere.
- Paper recovery and recycling reduces costs to local municipal authorities and frees up space at landfill sites.
- Recycling creates jobs for many in the informal and formal sector.
- With 65% of recovered paper used as raw material in paper mills, more than half of the country’s paper mills depend on recycled fibre and a number of them use it as their only fibre source.