Paper – Things You Must Know

Environmental Superheroes – Paper First

I have been working in the paper and print industry for the last five years, or to be accurate 4 years and 11 months, close enough. One thing that has always been in the back of my mind is what is the impact of paper on the environment, am I working in a field that is slowly killing the planet. No, this blog is not a negative blog at all, in fact, it is rather quite positive.

You see we need trees to breath, they make our oxygen and the industry I am in relies heavily on paper which needs to be made out of trees, so in effect, I am partly responsible for the number of trees being destroyed, cut down or felled to make the paper we need for our products. The good news is that I don’t have to feel guilty all by myself because you are also responsible for the trees being cut down.

From computer printouts, reports, invoices, and receipts in your office to menus, newspapers, TV guides, books and novels at home and even your license disk on your car, paper is all around you and is used by every person on this planet in some form or another every single day.

Don’t believe me… Try going to the toilet.

So with so many uses for paper, and with so many people using paper on a daily basis, where does it come from?

The simple answer is “Trees” or more to the point pulp made from trees.

I am not going to go into how paper is made from trees, the main point is that about 95% of all paper is made from wood fibre derived from trees.

If you want to find out more about how paper is made visit this Wikipedia Page or look at where I got this simple infographic.

Paper Making Flow Chart JHL

Papermaking Infographic courtesy

So let’s first look at the negative side which is how felling trees affects the environment. So in order to make paper, humans need to cut down trees and this starts the whole environmental debate over deforestation.

Facts about Paper

  • Use of paper is growing every year.
  • 40% of all paper is used for packaging.
  • Paper industry is the 5th largest consumer of energy in the world.
  • Paper is almost 2000 years old, invented by the Chinese in 105 A.D.
  • China is the largest producer of paper.
  • By 2030 the demand for paper is expected to double.

Facts about the environmental impact of paper

  • 40% of the commercially cut wood is used to make paper.
  • 93% of paper comes from trees.
  • Plantations and paper mills endanger wildlife habitats.
  • Over 300 million acres of forest are destroyed yearly.
  • Paper’s life cycle is damaging to the environment from start to finish.
  • It takes 10 litres of water to make a single A4 sheet of paper.
  • Every tonne of recycled paper saves between 17 and 20 trees, 3 cubic feet of landfill space, 25000 litres of water, 2581 litres of oil and up to 73% less air pollution than making paper from scratch.
  • When paper lands up in landfills and rubbish dumps, as it rots it emits methane gas.
Water to Paper Ratio JHL

These are just some of the facts and figures floating around on the Internet. But does this spell doom and gloom for the world. If it (paper) is so bad for the environment should we stop using paper immediately?

Can we stop using paper?

So if paper-based products are so bad for the environment, but we still need to use it daily, what is the solution?

Treely Sustainable Products

As paper is mainly derived from wood, which is a natural and renewable material, we can replant new saplings to replace older trees that have been cut down in the manufacturing process of paper.

As paper is mainly derived from wood, which is a natural and renewable material, we can replant new saplings to replace older trees that have been cut down in the manufacturing process of paper.

  • Forests and trees have a huge impact on our planet, they diminish the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere.

In one year, an acre of trees can;
• absorb the CO2 produced by a car being driven over 40,000km.
• provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
• store 2.6 tons of carbon.

  • Trees absorb pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ozone and ammonia and filter particles out of the air by trapping them on leaves and bark.
  • Trees make cities cooler by an average of 12 degrees by shading homes and streets.
  • Shade created by trees slows down evaporation of water thereby saving water.
  • Tree roots bind the soil near rivers and streams helping to prevent soil erosion.
  • Trees can make a neighbourhood, take Pretoria for example also known as The Jacaranda City.
  • In forests or cities, trees create habitats for wildlife.

So how is the paper industry looking at still being a viable option but also an environmentally friendly entity? For the different regions around the world, 3 organizations have been put in place to set standards for the management and control of forests for the paper industry.

Worldwide paper and forest organizations

1. FSC or Forest Stewardship Council

FSC Company Logo JHL

What or who is the FSC?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC does this by setting standards on forest products, along with certifying and labelling them as Eco-friendly.

The FSC was originally established in the early 1990s to address consumer concerns over illegal and often indiscriminate felling of tropical hardwoods. As the demand for sustainable certified forest increased, what was a certification system primarily designed for tropical environments, needed to either adapt as it was unsuitable for European and North American environments or be a stand-alone set of rules and allow other certifications to protect forests not covered by the FSC management structure. The FSC introduced the Gold Standard of Forest Management as a set of guidelines and standards to be followed and adhered to, in order to be FSC certified.

What the FSC Gold Standard of Forest Management entails?

  • Protects Water Quality –
    The FSC is the only standard to protect rivers and lakes from chemical runoff and erosion caused by deforestation where laws or industry-based best management guidelines are insufficient to protect water quality.
  • Prohibits Highly Hazardous Chemicals –
    Standards to stop the use of the most hazardous herbicides, pesticides and other harmful chemicals used in the cultivation of forests.
  • Limits Clear-cuts to Protect Forest Ecology –
    Large clear-cuts are not allowed where they threaten the ecological integrity of the forest. Standards are in place that ecological functions and values remain intact after any harvest.
  • Protects High Conservation Value Forests –
    FSC is the only standard with clear requirements to protect high conservation forests, such as Rare Old Growth trees.
  • Prevents Loss of Natural Forest Cover –
    Restricts deforestation including the conservation of biodiversity-rich natural forests to mono-culture plantations or non-forest uses.
  • Protects Customary Rights of Indigenous People and Local Communities –
    Standard to explicitly require forest managers to uphold and protect the customary rights and resources of indigenous people. Asses and address the impacts of such forest operations on local communities.

Types of FSC Certification

  • Forest Management Certification – Awarded for owners and managers of forests whose operations, processes and procedures meet FSC standards.
  • Chain of Custody Certification – Given to businesses that manufacture or sell forest products. It is a confirmation that the FSC certified material is correctly tracked and handled throughout the entire supply chain.

FSC Certification Labels

  • The FSC 100% – The FSC 100% label means that the wood within the product comes completely from FSC-certified forests.
  • FSC Recycled – The FSC Recycled label means all the wood or paper in the product comes from reclaimed (re-used) material.
  • An FSC Mixed – The FSC Mix label means the wood within the product is from the FSC-certified material, recycled material, or controlled wood.
FSC 100% Logo JHL
FSC 100% Label
FSC Recycled Logo JHL
FSC Recycled Label
FSC Mixed Label JHL
FSC Mixed Label

8 Benefits of using FSC certified products

So now that we have a better understanding of what the FSC is all about, how does this relate to everyday paper products?

  1. Clear conscience – Buying products displaying the FSC logo ensures that you are buying environmentally friendly products.
  2. Guarantee – The FSC label is a guarantee that the harvested trees are allowed to regenerate or are replaced.
  3. Protection – Parts of the FSC forests are set aside to protect rare flora and fauna.
  4. Environmental charities – The only wood certification scheme endorsed by WWF, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust.
  5. Indigenous people – The FSC protects the rights of local or indigenous people to use the forests. Areas with sacred sites upon them are exempt from felling.
  6. Assurance – Future generations will have access and be able to enjoy the benefits of the forests.
  7. Local resources – The owners of FSC forests are required to use local workers to run the forests. Training, safety equipment and a decent salary are also part of the FSC requirements. Forest owners should support the local community in others ways such as the development of schools.
  8. Tracking – All wood is tracked from forest to store. Clearly making it easy to identify which wood is FSC certified and which is not.

 2. Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification or PEFC

PEFC Company Logo

What or who is the PEFC?

PEFC is the world’s leading forest certification organization. An international non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification is the certification system of choice for small forest owners.

The PEFC was established in the late 1990s to facilitate certification of European forests and plantations, designed to give assurances of sustainability as required and designed by the global community.

PEFC Sustainable Forest Management Certificate Requirements

  • Biodiversity of the forest ecosystem is enhanced and maintained.
  • The range of ecosystem services that forests provide are sustained ie:
    • provide food, fibre, biomass and wood
    • they are a key part of the water cycle, act as sinks capturing and storing carbon, and prevent soil erosion
    • provide habitats and shelter for people and wildlife; and
    • they offer spiritual and recreational benefits
  • Chemicals are substituted by natural alternatives or their use is minimized
  • Workers’ rights and welfare are protected
  • Local employment is encouraged
  • Indigenous peoples’ rights are respected
  • Operations are undertaken within the legal framework and following best practices

PEFC Certification Labels

  • PEFC Certified – requires at least 70% wood from PEFC certified forests. Wood must come from controlled sources. The overall wood recycled content should not be higher than 85%.
  • PEFC Recycled – At least 70% of PEFC certified material should be from recycled sources. Wood must be from a controlled source.
  • PEFC Promoting SFM – Designed for educational purposes as well as for promotional use. This label shows support for sustainable forest management and PEFC certification
PEFC Certified Logo
PEFC Certified Label
PEFC Recycled Logo
PEFC Recycled Label
PEFC Promoting Label
PEFC Promoting Label

 7 Benefits of Chain of Custody PEFC certification

  1. Clear and Transparent Message – By seeing the PEFC logo on any product communicates to the consumer in a simple and transparent manner that these products have been sourced from sustainably managed forests.
  2. Access to Markets – COC or Chain of Custody offers companies access to markets which demand eco-friendly products as well as allowing marketing advantage over companies with uncertified wood products. Thereby enhancing BRAND VALUE.
  3. Confidence – COC allows business to be confident about how eco-friendly the wood-based products that they source are.
  4. Traceability – This allows the final wood product to be tracked back to its original sustainable forest.
  5. Risk Management – A due diligence system is included to prevent wood-based products from illegal, unknown or controversial sources from entering into the PEFC certified system.
  6. Business Leadership – Allows businesses to their competitive advantage over other suppliers.
  7. Availability & Choice – Two-thirds of the worlds certified forests are certified under the PEFC Standards. Resulting in over 300 million hectares of sustainable fibre and timber.

3. Sustainable Forestry Initiative or SFI

SFI Company Logo

What or who is the SFI?

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is a North American ‘forest certification standard’ and program of SFI Inc., a non-profit organization. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative is the world’s largest single forest certification standard by area.

The SFI was launched in 1994. In 2005 the SFI standard was recognized and endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

What the SFI of Forest Management promotes

The SFI Forest Management Standard promotes sustainable forestry practices based on 13 Principles, 15 Objectives, 37 Performance Measures and 101 Indicators. These requirements include measures to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk and forests with exceptional conservation value. The SFI Forest Management Standard applies to any organization in the United States or Canada that owns or manages forestlands.

The 13 SFI Principles

  • Sustainable Foresty
  • Forest Productivity and Health
  • Protection of Water Resources
  • Protection of Biological Diversity
  • Aesthetics and Recreation
  • Protection of Special Sites
  • Responsible Fiber Sourcing Practices in North America
  • Legal Compliance
  • Research
  • Training and Education
  • Community Involvement and Social Responsibility
  • Transparency
  • Continual Improvement

SFI Certification Options

  • Forestland Owners – Any company or individual landowner with a minimum of 10,000 acres can work to certify the sustainability of their forest management practices to the SFI Standard.
  • Procurement or wood sourcing operations – Companies or other entities that don’t own forests, but purchase wood to use in the manufacture of products can have their procurement or wood sourcing operations certified to the SFI Standard.

3 Benefits of SFI Certification

  1. For the Consumer:
    • Buying from a certified forest or source.
    • Making environmentally responsible purchasing decisions.
    • Helps to avoid buying products from illegal sources.
    • Makes buying decisions simpler and easier.
  2. For the Business:
    • Shows companies corporate social responsibilities.
    • Improves corporate image by showing environmental leadership.
    • Expand their market by supplying to environmentally aware consumers.
    • Offers access to international markets through mutual recognition programs.
    • Strengthens their procurement and environment policies with wood and fibre from certified forests or certified sourcing.
    • Supply of quality products due to widely applied and rigorous standards.
  3. For Communities & Conservation Groups:
    • Community and public involvement in foresting activities.
    • Protect forest, from water quality to habitation.
    • Protects lands with ecological, geological, historical or cultural significance.
    • Tackles the problems of illegal logging.
    • Broadens the practice of responsible forestry in North America through training and outreach.
    • Supports the rights of workers and local communities.
    • Supports activities that promote the conservation of biodiversity hotspots and high-biodiversity wilderness areas.

Going out on a limb

The paper industry is a contributor on both the negative and positive sides of the environmental impact of paper manufacturing.

Yes, they are felling trees in large amounts, but they are also part of the solution by planting replacement trees to match.

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

The ultimate goal is not to stop using paper altogether, but rather use paper in an environmentally friendly manner by using paper that has been harvested from a sustainable forest source. Recycle paper that has already been used, by printing on both sides of every sheet and shred documents with important information so that the details are obscured but the paper can still be recycled. Being conscious about your paper consumption is the first step to ensuring that paper is an environmentally friendly option.

Images courtesy of