Increased paper production claims more and more forest land.

Environmental Impact of Increased Paper Consumption

Paper consumption takes precious natural resources

As world wide population increases and sanitation standards improve, people tend to consume more paper products. While this is good news for the paper manufacturers, the repercussions of growing paper consumption and increased production could be dramatic for our environment. During the Global Forest and Paper Summit held in Vancouver, BC,  Claude Martin of WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature), reported that the equivalent of nearly 270,000 trees is currently being either flushed or dumped in landfills every day. Of this, roughly 10 percent is attributed to toilet paper.

While no one would dispute the positive impact of improved sanitation conditions for any culture, the impact of increased manufacturing and production creates demands on available natural resources around the world. 

For example, The China National Household Paper Industry Association reported that toilet paper consumption grew by 11 percent between 1990 and 2003 in China. This growth resulted in a vast reforestation project to meet the ever increasing demands for paper products in general. The goal of this project is tree coverage of about 42 percent of China’s landmass. But perhaps the cure is worse than the disease. Keep in mind, those trees will require a lot of water, and water issues are already a challenge in many areas of the country.

In 2005, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that 6 million hectares of what are described as some of the most biologically diverse ecological systems in the world are lost annually. And, deforestation is one of the major contributing factors to global climate change. The demand for paper products means an increase in logging old growth and intact forests. The political answer seems to be replacing those with industrial tree plantations.

However, tree plantations tend to to be made up of fast growing trees such as eucalyptus and pine (trees whose fibers result in the ideal texture for high-grade toilet paper). These monocultures displace indigenous plants, animals, and people, disrupting the natural environment of the biodiverse forests they replace. And, as in the reforestation project in China, these plantations will require large amounts of water, pesticides, and chemicals to quickly produce virgin fiber pulp needed by paper manufacturers.

It seems the most logical approach would be to increase production of toilet paper from recycled papers, recycled wood pulp, and other fibers. While efforts are being made to produce an affordable high-quality alternative to tree fibers used in toilet paper, it is not yet cost efficient on a global scale. As the demand grows for protection of our bio-diverse forests, natural resources, and ethical manufacturing practices, alternatives to production will increase.

It might seem like an overwhelming effort to consider on an individual level, but we can each take small steps to encourage change. Researching alternatives and supporting organizations who are fighting negative impact on the environment is a good way to get involved. Reducing toilet paper consumption and our household dependence on other disposable products is also a step in the right direction. Check our our earlier posts about ways to reduce and recycle for tips on getting started.

And, of course, using Control-n-Roll on your toilet paper dispensers is a simple way to reduce daily paper consumption.

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