The Reality We are Seeing in Our Forests
We recently came across a Reader’s Digest listicle called “40 Facts That Will Make You Use Less Paper.” Let’s just say there’s a whole lot to unpack in it! The “facts” in question tend to fall into a few different groupings, some with greater educational value than others. So, we figured we’d organize them and discuss them in turn, so you’ll have a better idea about how the Reader’s Digest claims square with the reality we are seeing in our forests.
In Reader’s Digest: Deforestation “destroys habitats” “contributes to global warming” “cause(s) soil erosion” and can transform thriving land into “deserts.”
In our forests: Deforestation is a problem, but not in the United States and certainly not one that has anything to do with our industry. A thriving forest products industry means preserving and expanding existing forestland to maintain forest health and productivity. Deforestation happens when forestland is converted to other uses, like pastureland or real estate development.
Every one of our foresters adhere to a set of best practices that take into account habitat, biodiversity, water and soil quality, and a number of other sustainability factors when planning for the long-term health of the land.
In Reader’s Digest: “Fewer trees mean poorer air quality” and “Forests give the world valuable food and medicine and, local populations especially, depend upon it as a means of both physical and financial survival.”
In our forests: True! Trees are vital filters. Good thing there are more of them in the United States now than there were 60 years ago, in part because our industry plants twice as many trees as we harvest.
Nobody is more acutely aware of the physical and financial benefits of healthy forests than we are. Pulp is harvested from our forests to make paper and packaging just as crops are harvested for food and medicine. It’s remarkable how difficult it is for some to see that our incentives are the same as those of the farmer. We need our forests to thrive to continue to provide great value.
In Reader’s Digest: “Americans use 68 million trees per year” and use “more paper towels” than anyone else.
In our forests: Before you fret, consider that there are an estimated 3.04 trillion trees in the world. 68 million divided by 3.04 trillion works out to 0.002%.
Oh, and we also replant more than we harvest. In fact we plant five trees for every man, woman, and child in the country every year.
In Reader’s Digest: Paper production “requires a lot of energy” and “huge amounts of water” while being a “large industrial polluter” that “contributes to water pollution.”
In our forests: We’re not sure how to assess the pollution claims, since no specific evidence is offered except a 2007 old report from an activist group. But in 2019 we can say our forest products producers are highly-regulated at the federal and state levels to ensure that we are handling air, water, soil, and waste responsibly.
As for resource efficiency, we cut GHG emissions by 19.9 percent in a decade while increasing energy efficiency by almost 12 percent. We are also increasingly self-powering, moving away from fossil fuels and into renewable, carbon-neutral biomass energy. You can read all about our industry’s great sustainability strides here.
In Reader’s Digest: “At the rate we are cutting [trees] down for timber, they don’t have enough time to replenish.”
In our forests: Luckily for all involved, U.S. forestland is growing, and has been growing for the last half century. There are more trees now than there have been in decades, in part because twice as much wood is growing each year as is harvested.
In Reader’s Digest: While “recycling paper can save businesses money” and “recycled paper is available”, “even recycling paper has its negatives”, and “people forget to recycle their newspapers”
In our forests: We found this group of claims a bit confusing and contradictory. Let’s go through them one at a time.
First: Yes, recycling can be a source of savings and even profit for some businesses. (Let’s leave to the economists the author’s claim about the global GDP of the recycling industry is equivalent to the amount businesses can save by recycling.)
Second: Many great paper products containing recycled fiber are available, so we’re with you there! In fact, many consumers are likely already purchasing paper products containing recycled fiber without realizing it because a majority of paper and paper product producers, almost 80%, use some amount of recycled fiber in their products.
Third: We suppose it’s true that recycling paper uses “energy and chemicals” as the author claims, but we’re not sure why this is a “downside”?
And fourth: The author shares a six-year-old claim about how many people read print newspapers, and then says that “You don’t have to do the actual math to realize that that is a lot of trees and a lot of paper. Some people recycle their newspapers and magazines, but others don’t.” We’d prefer some “actual math”, actually. The overall recycling recovery rate for paper has climbed steadily for decades, topping out at over 60%. That makes it one of the most recycled materials on the planet. And yes, we can always do better (with your help!).
In Reader’s Digest: “Paper production uses a large portion of the world’s wood” and “a lot of our paper goes toward packaging.”
In our forests: “The paper industry accounts for 40 percent of all wood traded globally, says the WWF.” Okay… But that’s 40 percent of the wood that is actually on the market. Which is itself an infinitesimal fraction of the wood out there in nature. What’s the context here? We’re not sure.
Similarly, we’re not sure why it’s surprising that a lot of packaging is made from paper. Paper is renewable, affordable, lightweight, incredibly strong for its weight, and has a variety of unique characteristics that make it ideal for getting things to people safely, securely, and economically. Don’t take our word for it. Ask the experts!
In Reader’s Digest: “Printing double-sided saves paper”, “Reducing paper usage saves money”, “reusable shopping bags can save trees”, and “reusable household items are great replacements for paper.”
In our forests: Ultimately this is a matter of consumer’s choice. You can certainly print double sided, use reusable shopping bags or the likes if you want, but there is no need to make consumers feel guilty if they opt not to. After all, paper products come from a renewable resource – trees!
In Reader’s Digest: “We’re happier and healthier when we’re green”
In our forests: Yup, come join us in the woods!
In Reader’s Digest: “Papers can be edited online,” “Digital calendars / E-readers are more convenient”, “paperwork / billing can be done electronically”, and “paper receipts waste resources.”
In our forests: A number of studies show people learn and retain information better, and feel more well organized when using paper tools as opposed to digital. There are also important security advantages to things like paper bills and receipts, and corresponding security risks posed by digital versions. But to be honest, this is entirely about personal choice. If you prefer reading on screens to reading on paper, go for it. Just don’t let anyone make you feel guilty if you prefer paper, you’re making a sustainable, renewable choice.
In Reader’s Digest: “Your decisions in the bathroom matter” and there are toilet paper alternatives available made out of “bamboo and sugarcane.”
In our forests: Paper tissue quickly, easily, and safely biodegrades, reentering the biosphere along with other organic matter. It is one of the most efficient uses of fiber there is. But if you’d like to try bamboo, knock yourselves out!
In Reader’s Digest: “Repurposing your paper products makes a difference.”
In our forests: This one we love as is, so we’re just going to quote it: “A big part of going green is creativity. Take a moment to think outside the box and figure out other uses for your paper waste products. Old newspapers, for example, can be used to help package gifts or breakable items for storage. Have a hamster? A rabbit? Shred your old papers to line the cage. Shredded newspaper can be added to your compost bin, too.”
In fact, we’ve got some more ideas for reuse here.