The Art of Recycling
I have been an ardent (some would say eccentric) recycler since the advent of modern recycling began in the 1970’s. It got in my blood. In fact, I actually remove the aluminum cutting strip on boxes of foil and plastic wrap and recycle that separately from the paper. Does that make me weird? Occasionally, I do meet someone who cocks an eyebrow at me. Not sorry. This behavior got baked into me at an early age.
My Eagle Scout project involved cleaning up Glover Archibald Park, a 2.5 mile stretch of woods and streams in Washington DC. We pulled out tons (quite literally) of trash – plastics, discarded toys, automobile tires, appliances, magazines, etc. We even pulled out a fallen galvanized steel light pole. How it got in the woods I will never know…but there it was all bent up. How a bunch of Scouts managed to drag it out of the woods is somewhat surprising - it was very heavy and we were just kids. We put everything we pulled out into large heavy duty plastic bags and it all got carted away by the Department to Public Works. In fact, my Dad who worked for the City then, said they were pretty pissed because we were giving them so much extra work to do. Yup, it all got carted away. Away. To a landfill. Jut where is “away” anyhow? A landfill may be away from me but it is someone else’s “here” and is not a sustainable solution to anything.
As I grew into adulthood, I found myself thinking about all the material we pulled out of those woods and I designed, in my head, this giant centrifugal machine that would mine and separate all the reusable materials in a landfill. In between living life and daydreaming inventions, somewhere along the line, I became that recycler guy mentioned above. It’s easier to do than build a giant centrifugal machine. I do not care what the naysayers contend – they will say it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t add up, it all gets dumped in the same place. Again, not sorry, I recycle anyway. The fact is that if we all do it and we all pay attention to what we use, how much we use, and we think a little bit more about resources being finite, we will move the needle in the right direction. Let’s just take paper and expound on it.
The Environmental Impacts of Paper Production
According to the Environmental Paper Network’s Paper Calculator, it takes about 32 million BTU’s of energy to produce one ton of virgin paper fiber. This analysis and its methodology was overhauled in 2018 and evaluates the impact profile of 14 different paper grades along each stage of its life cycle from harvesting to manufacture and using a methodology conforming to ISO 14044, the draft LEO-S-002 standard, the Product Category Rule (PCR) for Pulp and Paper, the Product Category Rule (PCR) Module for Roundwood and the LCIA Methodology for Roundwood and Pulp/Paper PCR Modules. You are encouraged to visit this site as it is pretty amazing. So, let’s get back to 32 million BTU’s to manufacture one ton of paper. This process takes about 24 trees and yields about 200,000 sheets of paper. That’s about 400 reams of paper which, if you stacked them, would stand almost 67 feet high. Of course, examining energy usage is merely one aspect of the impacts which need to be teased apart, expanded in detail, and evaluated. Once that has occurred, we can begin to develop the metrics to understand the benefits of recycling paper. Before we do that, Let’s take a quick look at the early history of recycling.
Recycling Paper – Early History
According to the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC), The first recorded use of recycled paper was in 9th century Japan which was relatively soon after figuring out how to produce it. Recycled paper was considered more precious than newly produced paper as though the recycled pulp itself carried an echo of the life – the writing, art, and poetry it may have once held. Japan, as an island nation, may be considered a microcosm of our planet. Resources – all of them – are to be used with care and reverence. While we have no recorded data of the energy and resource savings 9th Century Japanese recyclers, we do today, and the benefits of recycling paper are astonishing. For an expanded view of its history, check out NERC.org website.
Recycling Paper – SO, what are the Benefits?
There is of course the water required to manufacture paper. The most efficient kraft pulp and paper mills use about 4,500 gallons of water per ton of paper produced. There are greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and other negative environmental impacts. In short, here is what recycling paper can do for us:
According to the US EPA, recycling one ton of paper would:
- Save enough energy to power the average American home for six months.
- Save 7,000 gallons of water.
- Save 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent (MTCE).
- To produce 1 ton of recycled paper, it takes about 22 million BTUs and releases abut 44% less GHG and uses ZERO trees.
Currently, around 40% of all commercial trees harvested across our planet are used to manufacture paper products. So, the more we recycle paper, the fewer trees need to be harvested and this virtuous cycle is reinforced. It requires about 1.2 tons of wastepaper to produce about 1 ton of recycled paper. It would take about twice as much wood (2.5 tons) to produce 1 ton of virgin paper.
The University of Southern Indiana, as do many institutions of higher learning, has a robust recycling program and records the following Fun Facts about Paper Recycling (University of Southern Indiana):
To produce each week's Sunday newspapers, 500,000 trees must be cut down.
- Recycling a single run of the Sunday New York Times would save 75,000 trees.
- If all our newspaper was recycled, we could save about 250,000,000 trees each year!
- If every American recycled just one-tenth of their newspapers, we would save about 25,000,000 trees a year.
- If you had a 15-year-old tree and made it into paper grocery bags, you'd get about 700 of them. A busy supermarket could use all of them in under an hour! This means in one year, one supermarket can go through over 6 million paper bags! Imagine how many supermarkets there are just in the United States!!!
- The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees. This amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year!
- The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for 20 years.
- Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the U.S.
- Americans use 85,000,000 tons of paper a year; about 680 pounds per person.
- The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year. Most is packaging and junk mail.
- In 1993, U.S. paper recovery saved more than 90,000,000 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution!
- The 17 trees saved (above) can absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Burning that same ton of paper would create 1500 pounds of carbon dioxide.
- The construction costs of a paper mill designed to use waste paper is 50 to 80% less than the cost of a mill using new pulp.
Commit two or three of these tidbits to your memory and you can rebut any paper recycling naysayer.
It is important to say, part of proper stewardship is responsible management of the source itself. The Forest Stewardship Council “runs a global forest certification system with two key components: Forest Management and Chain of Custody certification. This system allows consumers to identify, purchase and use timber and forest products produced from well-managed forests. At present, 90% of the virgin fibre content of our papers is FSC certified.” So, as with most everything, there is no panacea solution. We cannot expect the FSC – or any entity – to protect us from our own daily practices and must therefore commit to personal behavioral change to make a lasting difference.
Inbebo examines every one of the products it features for a range of attributes. Sometimes a really innovative product improves our productivity, our health, or helps solve some environmental challenge. Occasionally, we come across a product that does all of that and more. Such is the case with our Artstand product.
Artstand is ergonomically designed to help with posture and working while at our laptops. Improves productivity? – check!
- Artstand is a piece of art. Harvard Health studies have shown that artistic expression can help people with depression, anxiety, even cancer. Improves health? – check!
- Artsand is made from 100% recycled paper and uses no bonding agents or harmful VOC’s in its manufacture. Is sustainable? – check!
Artstand features art created by individuals with disabilities. There is a spirit to that which resonates with the 9th Century Japanese notion of recycled paper being held as almost sacred. We are all enriched by the artwork these individuals have shared with us and which now adorns this 100% recycled product.
By Brian H.
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