By Danny Mejia ’18
Plastic is the new cigarette. Once glorified as an essential tool in our daily lives, plastic is faced with more scrutiny than ever before.
Local and international officials have finally realized the extensive damage plastic has done to our marine environment and ecosystems. Back at home; New York City policymakers were pushing for a five cent fee on plastic bags in supermarkets. However, AM New York reported that on February 14, Governor Cuomo signed legislation delaying the fee on single-use plastic bags. While New York failed to catch up to other states like California, Washington D.C. and Massachusetts who already implement a similar fee or are in the process of doing so, the United Nations has begun a global campaign targeting plastic. The Clean Seas campaign urges countries and businesses to reduce the use of micro plastics in personal care products like cosmetics and ban or tax single-use plastics.
The campaign seems to be gaining support as several countries, including Costa Rica and India, and companies like Dell, make individual pledges to reduce their plastic footprint.
Finally we see officials trying to take action against something that is filling up our landfills, clogging our sewage systems and polluting our oceans. However, in the midst of this progress we may be playing into the hands of another powerful industry that is just as, if not more damaging to our environment, the paper industry.
The article, “Banning Plastic Bags Is Great for the World Right? Not so Fast” published June 2016 by Wired, points out that if banned or taxed, plastic bags may be replaced with paper bags which are just as bad to the environment because the carbon footprint of paper bags is greater than that of plastic bags. Now while other alternatives such as using recycled plastic bags or cotton-based reusable bags are acknowledged, it is clear that the paper industry would be gaining from any ban on plastic bags.
If we can push for less plastic use, we need to push for less paper use as well. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the demand for paper will increase faster than any other wood product, and by 2060 paper consumption will double from where it is now at the very minimum.
Shockingly, Americans are one of the biggest consumers of paper. In fact, the book, Pulp and Paper Industry: Energy Conservation published January 2016 states that the US consumes 30% of the world’s paper and on average a person in the US uses over 700 pounds of paper every year. Given these statistics, it is no wonder that the US has the highest paper consumption rate per capita in the world.
However, if Americans cut back on over consumption, we can make a dent in the global consumption of paper and reduce the demand.
This isn’t to say that America isn’t the only country who can make an impact. China is actually the world’s largest paper consumer followed by the US, according to Statista. If both countries can agree to use less paper, the demand and production would certainly decrease and it needs to happen as soon as possible.
This is because the predicted increase in paper consumption would lead to a higher demand for logging. Right now the UCS estimates that wood products, including paper, are the cause for about ten percent of total deforestation. While efforts have been made by the Western world to stem unstainable logging, in other parts of the world such as Indonesia, Greenpeace reports that about 76-80% of logging is illegal. It is safe to assume that as demand rises so will these illegal activities which all stems from our addiction to paper. One must also consider the fact that the paper industry uses more water than any other industry in the world.
Furthermore, if one looks beyond the damage to our environment, it is clear that certain paper products may actually be harmful to us. The most notable example is thermal paper, which is used to make receipts. Although some thermal paper makers have stopped using bisphenol A (a carcinogen), a 2016 report by the Center for Environmental Health discussed how thermal paper is being produced but with another carcinogen, BPS.
The extent of the damage the paper industry has caused cannot and should not be ignored. It’s great that the higher ups are listening when it comes to plastic pollution, but paper is just as bad and efforts such as recycling, sustainable logging, tree plantations, and simply using less paper will do wonders in the fight to save Mother Nature. Earth is our home and we need to take better care of it so you should ask yourself from now on, do I really need to use so much paper?