The convenient truth
Did you know that all paper in South Africa is produced from plantation-grown trees or bagasse (sugar-cane fibre) just as corn is planted for our cereal and wheat for our bread?
Contrary to popular and often misinformed belief, the fibre used to make paper products is not sourced from the wood of rainforests, indigenous or common garden trees. The myth that printing a document will kill a tree is also perpetuated by email footnotes such as ‘Please consider the environment before printing this’ or ‘Go green, read it on screen’. In fact, reading a document on screen produces more carbon dioxide (CO2) than printing out the same document. A printed document can be read over again without further emissions and can also be recycled.
In South Africa, 600 million trees across 762,000 hectares are specifically grown for use in pulp and paper manufacturing. Some 18 million tonnes of CO2 are absorbed by these plantations annually. In addition to this annual absorption, there is a stock of some 180 million tonnes of CO2 that remains stored in the unharvested plantations, making the forestry industry a key player in fighting climate change.
If it were not for the pulp and paper industry operating world-wide for the last 150 years the CO2 level in the atmosphere would be 5% higher than it is at present. This represents an approximate 0.5 degree drop in global warming.
As massive sinks for atmospheric carbon, plantations reduce greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen through the natural process of photosynthesis.
In South African we only use about 9% of the total plantation area annually for paper manufacture and only matured trees are harvested, and each of these is replaced by saplings in the same year. Carbon absorption continues as the new trees grow and young trees are able to store carbon more rapidly than the older trees.
Paper is far more recyclable than metal, glass and plastic and can be recycled at least seven times. Paper products are thus a renewable resource.
As Jonathan Porritt, former chairman of the UK Sustainability Development Commission, says, “There aren’t many industries around that can aspire to becoming genuinely sustainable. The pulp and paper industry, however, is one of them. It is inherently sustainable.”
Pick paper. It’s the sustainable choice.