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Environmental Benefits of Paper Recycling

Paper is not harming the environment. It is a biodegradable material, decomposes very quickly and does not release any toxins at any stage of decomposition. But the paper industry poses a number environmental hazards which, however, can be avoided by paper recovery and recycling.

Paper is made from wood which means that virgin paper production requires logging to obtain the source of paper. And considering the widespread use of paper in all segments of life, tree harvesting for paper production has become too severe burden for the environment. Fortunately, most of the trees that are cut down for paper making come from sustainable forests although clear cutting and reforestation remain a common practice as well. Reforestation is without a doubt more environmentally friendly solution than deforestation but since most reforested areas are monoculture, they can reduce biodiversity. Furthermore, if the tree seedlings are not indigenous to the area they can become invasive and severely affect the ecosystem in a wider area.

Paper Recycling

In addition to affecting the ecosystems locally or regionally, tree harvesting has a major impact globally. Forests play an important role in controlling carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as the trees absorb the harmful gas which is thought to be the main contributor to global climate change and produce oxygen. As a result, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase with each tree cut down. And billions of trees are cut down worldwide each year, while more than one third of fallen trees are used for paper production.

Paper recycling does not eliminate the need for logging to make paper completely, however, it dramatically reduces the rate of deforestation because a single piece of paper can be recycled multiple times. And by reducing the logging rate, paper recycling helps reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the air. Paper recycling involves the use of considerable amount of energy too but significantly less energy is needed for paper recycling than for virgin paper production. And since most of the global energy is generated from fossil fuel burning, paper recycling further reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air. Paper recycling industry also often uses various environmentally-harmful chemicals but it causes significantly less air and water pollution than the producers of virgin paper especially those who produce bleached pulp.

Due to the above mentioned environmental as well as economic benefits of paper recycling, the percentage of recycled paper has started to rise dramatically over the last few decades. In 2010, almost 69 percent of paper was recovered and recycled in Europe. This is a slight decline from 2009 when paper recycling rate reached the impressive 72 percent, however, as much as 52 million tonnes of paper were recovered in 2010 alone. This translates into 884 million saved trees as 17 trees need to be cut down to produce one tonne of paper. Unfortunately, paper recycling rate is not as high worldwide and as a result, the paper industry remains a serious environmental threat on the global level.