The Environmental Impact Of The Paper Industry

Last week we talked about paper versus plastic bags. Which is better? Neither. Both are resource heavy and have a life cycle that affects the environment. Zero waste and reusable products are always the greener alternative but if you must choose paper products it is important to know a little more about where they come from and how they are made.

Even though we are submerged in a digital era, we can’t deny paper is still all around us. We still read books, write down notes and buy all kinds of stuff wrapped in paper packaging.

Paper is many times presented as a greener choice, but that is not necessarily true. In this article, I will introduce you to the paper-making process, and its pros and cons compared to other products.

The Life Cycle Of Paper

The life cycle of paper includes all stages from the extraction of the raw materials to the final disposal of the product. For this analysis, I will consider paper gets recycled and analyze that stage instead of going to landfill. With this consideration made, paper and cardboard production can be divided into the following stages:

  • Wood extraction

  • Pulp making and processing

  • Paper-making

  • Recycling

Wood Extraction

The pulp and paper industry is one of the main causes of worldwide deforestation. This is because wood is the most common material used for paper production.

For example: In Indonesia, the paper industry growth has outstripped plantation production. Therefore, it has depended on wood from natural forests. Between 2000 and 2010, about 50% of the raw materials used by Indonesian pulp mills came from the clearing of natural forests.

Pulp Making & Processing

In this process, all kinds of dirt, soil and bark are removed from the raw materials. To achieve this, wood chips are cooked at high temperatures and pressure. Some chemicals are also involved in this process to separate compounds that are not needed in paper production.

A very common process for pulp making is the Kraft process.

Here, wood chips are cooked in a solution of different chemicals, called liquor. When the pulp-making is achieved, this liquor turns into a black fluid. Then, this liquor is burnt in an evaporator to recover the chemicals in the solution.

Some of the environmental impacts of this stage are: