We use millions of tons of paper every year to write on, wrap packages and as personal hygiene products. But is all of this paper usage sustainable and is paper biodegradable? We find out in this article.
What Is Paper?
Paper takes the form of a thin sheet and is made from wood pulp or similar fibrous materials such as grass and other vegetable sources that contain cellulose. These cellulose fibers are mechanically or chemically processed by being soaked in water before being drained via a mesh plate. The leftover material is pressed evenly and then left to dry.
Paper was originally made in single sheets by hand but most of it is now made in large machines. The biggest of these machines produce up to 600,000 tonnes of paper a year.
Paper is a very versatile material and has several real world uses. The most common uses are printing, packaging, decorating, writing, cleaning, filter paper, wallpaper, book endpaper, toilet tissue, currency and security paper.
Is Paper Biodegradable?
Yes, paper is biodegradable.
Paper is a natural organic material which means it will biodegrade under the right conditions.
Paper has to be wet to biodegrade which assists in weakening its physical structure. This then makes it easier for microbes to break it down further.
Under the right conditions, paper will biodegrade within 6 months. It’s important to remember that some types of paper (tissue) will biodegrade faster than others (cardboard).
Non-glossy paper that has been shredded is also compostable.
Is Paper Eco Friendly?
The production and use of paper have several negative effects on the environment.
Global usage of paper has risen by 400% in the last 40 years causing increases in deforestation with 35% of all harvested trees used for the manufacture of paper. Many paper companies plant trees to help regrow forests and offset this impact. Some companies are also FSC certified as operating sustainable forests. The logging of old growth forests accounts for less than 10% of wood pulp production but is one of the most controversial issues surrounding paper production.
Paper waste is responsible for up to 40% of total waste produced in the United States each year, which equals 71.6 million tons of paper waste produced just in the US. The average office worker in the US prints 31 pages every day and Americans also use around 1 billion paper cups every year.
The bleaching of wood pulp during manufacturing using elemental chlorine releases lots of chlorinated organic compounds (including chlorinated dioxins) into the environment. Dioxins are recognized as an environmental pollutant and are regulated internationally by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
The paper pulp and print industries emitted 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 and 0.9% in 2012.
Paper is biodegradable and can also be composted. The best way to dispose of paper is by recycling it and making sure it is reused as many times as possible.
This reduces the logging of forests and the amount of waste we send to landfill.