Debunking Environmental Myths: Forests, Paper, and Print

We have never been more acutely aware of the climate change crisis, and businesses are undertaking increasingly closer scrutiny of the impact of their activities on the environment.

Misconceptions and myths around the paper and print sectors can prove hard to shift. Our blog explores the truth behind these industries and sets out the case for supporting a sustainable print company.

The truth about forests

It is widely feared that forests are shrinking because of wood harvesting for use in manufacturing. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. European forests are growing in an area equivalent to 1,500 football pitches every day. This equates to around 612M square metres. Forests cover 40 per cent of European territory and grew by an area bigger than Switzerland between 2005 and 2020.

Forests are crucial to the support of biodiversity and provide habitats for 80 per cent of amphibians, 75 per cent of birds and 68 per cent of mammals. Trees preserve soil and protect water sources. In addition, forests support ecosystems and communities worldwide, contributing directly and indirectly to human well-being.

Forests regulate rainwater and boost the water security on which all wildlife depends for its growth and survival. European forests function as a major carbon sink sequestering an average of 155 million tonnes of CO2 in the decade between 2010 and 2020, which equates to around 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Pressures on forests come from deforestation and degradation caused by unsustainable agricultural, logging and mining practices and increased instances of uncontrolled wildfires. The industry is active in mitigating these pressures through certification schemes that help promote sustainable management, protect wildlife and reduce carbon emissions while supporting livelihoods and enforcing human rights.

Across the globe, more than half of all wood is harvested for fuel, while 30 per cent is used in manufacturing furniture and other products. Paper is made using only thirteen per cent of all harvested wood. More than 90 per cent of the paper we use in the UK originates from Europe, and high volumes are subject to robust chain of custody certificates.

The paper industry is a significant supporter of sustainable forest management through schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which brings together landowners, manufacturers, and NGOs as part of a commitment to protecting natural habitats around the world and supporting the communities on which the industry depends. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is a leading global
alliance of national forest certification systems. As an international non-profit, non-governmental organization, it promotes sustainable forest management through independent third-party certification.

Both schemes support independently verified sustainable forests that enable producers to track wood and pulp through its entire lifecycle, ensuring no adverse impact on local communities and forest workers.

The truth about recycling

While the recycling of some materials is in its infancy, the UK has been recycling paper since the 1970s and across Europe, paper is used 3.8 times on average. Fifty-six per cent of fibre comes from paper that has been recycled. This represents an increase of 16 per cent since 1991.

Fifty-six million tonnes of paper were recycled in Europe in 2020 which equates to a recycling rate of 74 per cent. Paper and cardboard packaging is even more readily recycled, achieving a rate of 83 per cent. The industry assesses that the maximum rate achievable for paper is about 78 per cent because fibres become shorter and lose strength each time they are processed. Regular renewal of virgin fibres from sustainably managed forests is essential to maintain the effectiveness of the recycling process.

Despite its sustainable origins and high recycling rate, the industry supports the economic use of all resources and promotes responsible paper consumption. The paper industry supports the circular economy by using every part of the tree, including sawmill chips and even sawdust.

The truth about paper and print

With its evolution from plant-based papyrus and parchment made from animal skins, humans have used paper for over 2000 years. The printing industry makes a significant contribution to the UK economy, generating around £9BN in revenue, but its impact on the environment is relatively low.

The paper and print sector accounts for only 0.8 per cent of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions fell by 48 per cent per tonne between 1991 and 2019. Sixty-two per cent of the energy consumed by the paper and pulp industry is derived from renewable sources, including biomass generated from burning wood and plant material.

Over 54 per cent of the electricity used in the production of paper is generated onsite. In addition, the industry has reduced its overall energy consumption by over 11 per cent over the last twelve years. Research suggests that we each use around 119kg of paper every year, producing 73kg of CO2. This compares to driving 370 mile in a family car1.

Water is extensively used in the production of paper, and mills throughout Europe are based close to rivers and lakes, which account for 89 per cent of usage. However, 93 per cent of water is returned to the natural environment, having been circulated through the process several times. Over the last thirty years, water use in paper manufacturing has been reduced by 47 per cent, and production techniques have improved the cleanliness of the wastewater leaving mills.

With the exponential growth in capacity for cloud storage and file sharing online over the last decade, the myth of the ‘paperless office’ is perhaps one of the most persistent and stubborn. However, even electronic files have a major impact on the environment. More content is uploaded than is ever deleted. Electronic waste is currently estimated at 54 million metric tonnes across the world, an increase of over 20 per cent since 2017.
The current rate of recycling global e-waste stands at just 17 per cent, although this is much higher in Europe at 43 per cent. According to the European Commission, the IT industry uses 5-9 per cent of all of Europe’s electricity to power digital equipment and networks.

Finally, the myth that people prefer electronic transactions is dispelled by evidence that 47 per cent print these for storage as hard copies. Research shows that 74 per cent of European consumers believe they have the right to choose whether they receive communications from service providers and financial organisations in printed or electronic form.

On the other hand, paper communications are derived from sustainable and renewable sources and positively contribute to the global economy and the wellbeing of communities. PDS works with a trusted network of printers and is FSC-certified. We can help you ensure that your print projects contribute to a sustainable sector that benefits your business and your customers print solutions.

1Based on an average of 120.4g CO2/km for new cars sold in 2018

Looking to make better choices when it comes to your print?

Ready to start a conversation about how PDS can help you make better, more sustainable choices for your printing needs? Let’s talk! We’d love to hear from you and discuss how we can work together to achieve your sustainability goals.