Once rare, today one of the most common, most versatile and most widely used materials. It's all around us. Newspapers, magazines, books, notebooks, office paper, packaging, boxes, handkerchiefs, toilet paper ...... this is only a fraction of what paper is currently used for. But what is behind its production and use? What is the impact of this mega industry on the environment? What could we do to change that?
One of the largest and most prosperous industries in the world is the paper industry. Despite the modern digital age we live in, the demand for paper has not decreased. From 1890 to 2020, paper production increased from 3.3 million tons to more than 400 million tons per year. The world's largest paper producers are China, the USA and Japan, and Germany, Finland, Sweden and Italy in Europe. The demand for paper is constantly increasing. By 2060, paper consumption is expected to increase 2-3 times. In 2016, the average annual paper consumption per capita in Europe was 125 kg of paper, 215 kg in North America, 43 kg in South America, 113 kg in Oceania, 43 kg in Asia and 7 kg in Africa.
Did you know
The use of paper
Most paper is used to make packaging. The most popular is cardboard. Simply put, thick paper that is corrugated and glued on both sides with smooth thick paper. Does it remind you of anything? It's a cardboard box! A cardboard box is used everywhere - to pack electronics, glass, food ... and, paradoxically, also paper products. Office paper products used primarily for printing and writing landed on the second place in the paper consumption.
baliaci material – packaging material, ostatné – other, novinový papier – newspaper, hygienický material – hygiene producs, tlacenie a pisanie – office paper (printing and writing)
The base material for the production of paper is cellulose, the primary source of which is wood of trees. Wood accounts for up to 93% of the input material needed for paper production. The paper industry thus has one of the most significant impacts on deforestation and tree loss on the planet. The paper industry is behind almost half (42%) of global logging. As a result, a total of 386 million hectares of forest worldwide were lost worldwide between 2001 and 2019. This loss represents almost a 10% decrease in forests since 2000. 712 million trees will be used to produce 42 million tonnes of toilet paper (average annual world consumption). And that's "just" a toilet paper.
Paper industry, power consumption and pollution
The paper production and processing consumes a lot of power. The pulp industry is considered to be the 5th largest consumer of power - it consumes 4-5% of the world's power (on a global scale). The most common source of power is fossil fuels. Their use together with fumes from the paper production process are a significant source of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere (CO2, SO2). In addition to power, the industry consumes a huge amount of water - it uses more water per tonne of product produced than any other industry. More than 320 litres of water are used to produce 1 kg of paper alone. With 420 mil. tonnes of paper produced per year, we get an incredible 136,080,000,000,000 litres of water consumed. This number, however, is not final. The amount of water consumed depends on the production technology as well as the specific properties and quality of the paper produced and its further processing. Wastewater from the production process is also a problem. It is polluted by a number of hazardous chemicals, e.g. heavy metals, chlorates, alcohols, resins, glues, solid components from production and the like.
Paper waste accounts for 26-35% of global waste. It makes 14-20% in municipal waste. The average Slovak uses up to 65-85 kg of paper a year.
Paper is one of the easiest materials to recycle. Despite various prejudices, products made of the recycled paper could be of the top-notch quality. However, it should be noted that, like many other materials (e.g. plastics), paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. When recycled, cellulose fibers get shorter and, over time, become unsuitable for the production of certain paper products. However, shorter fibers can be used for the production of toilet paper or napkins. In total, the paper can be recycled 5-8 times! Imagine how many trees and litres of water could be saved, not speaking of air pollution and energy savings! In the production of some paper products, 50-100% of the input raw material may come from pulp obtained from recycled paper (cardboard, newspapers).
Did you know that
What happens with the paper in the blue container
Not all paper is suitable for recycling. Before recycling, the paper is first sorted on a sorting line based on the type of paper. Unsuitable and unusable paper includes bookbinding paper and boards, wet, greasy, waxy or soiled paper, asphalt and tar paper, thermal printing paper, used diapers and hygiene supplies (pads, handkerchiefs, make - up wipes, tampons, wet wipes, cotton swabs), Tetra Pack and the like. Before printing paper is recycled, the ink must be removed chemically first. The sorted paper is compressed into cubes and transported to paper processing plant. The paper is crushed "to a pulp" and non-fibrous particles (metal staples, plastic, etc.) are removed from it. Then it is soaked and pulped into fibers. The fibers are repeatedly cleaned until a pulp (technical pulp or cellulose) is obtained. This pulp is further processed depending on the papermaking technology or properties and quality required.
triedenie – waste sorting – the waste is put into the blue container or a bag
zber – collection – waste collector collects waste and transports it to the waste recycling plant
separácia – waste separation – on a waste sorting line waste is sorted into separate material and non-fibrous particles (metal staples, plastic, etc.) are removed from it
rozvlákňovanie - Pulping – pulping is the process where fibers are separated and treated to produce pulp
čistenie – cleaning - non-fibrous particles (metal staples, plastic, etc.) and ink are removed from the pulp
sušenie – drying - The wet pulp is then dried out, crushed and made into a roll
nové produkty – new products – the paper is ready to be used
Paper recycling process uses water, energy and chemicals, too. However, compared to the production of paper from primary sources, this process is much more environmentally friendly.
Recycling symbols and paper tags
Paper and paper packaging
popis: vlnitá lepenka – corrugated fiberboard, hladká lepenka – smooth fiberboard, papier – paper, ostatný papier – other paper
The blue container includes all materials marked with the abbreviation PAP. The numbers 20,21,22,39 indicate the type of paper.
Composites are packages composed of several materials that cannot be separated from each other. In general, if parts of the packaging cannot be easily separated, they are classified as composites (designation C). Sorting of composites is problematic, as many composite materials cannot be recycled (yet). In principle, we classify composites based on the major component present. Symbols on the packaging will tell you what component is dominant.
popis – material / marking
80 – paper and fiberboard/ various metals, 81 - paper and fiberboard/ plastics, 82 paper and fiberboard/ aluminium, 83 - paper and fiberboard/ tin plate 84, paper and fiberboard/ plastics/ aluminium, 84 - paper and fiberboard/ plastics/ aluminium/ tin plate
What can you do?
Elaborated by: RNDr. Eva Barbušinová, PhD., Department of Animal Husbandry, Fish and Bees, Ecology and Cynology UVMP