Harry on paper: Maropeng’s spokeshominid debunks paper myths

  • April 29, 2014

Harry, Maropeng's official spokeshominid

Paper myths abound.

Some of us believe that the paper industry is responsible for the destruction of the world’s remaining rainforests, and that paper production takes place in remote jungles, where it harms habitats and contributes to species extinction.

Others associate paper mills with ruthless carnage, where the annihilation of gigantic trees in isolated ecologies serves to feed a growing timber demand.

Most of us, at work and at home, are encouraged to “go paperless” – we’re told to read the newspaper online, buy notebooks made out of recycled paper and to “reconsider printing this email”.

Maropeng’s chief investigator, fact-finder, myth-buster and spokeshominid, Harry the Hominid, sets the facts straight in an interview with Jane Molony, executive director of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa.

Where does paper come from?
All paper produced in South Africa comes from plantation-grown trees, recycled paper or sugar cane. It comes from sustainably managed timber plantations, not from indigenous forests. Plantation-grown trees are farmed for paper, just as maize is planted for cereals and wheat for bread.

Does paper manufacture cause deforestation?
Not in South Africa. Here, 600-million trees across 762 000 hectares are specifically grown for use in pulp and paper manufacture. Just like most other crops, we plant, harvest and replant – around 260 000 new trees every day!

Does paper manufacture contribute to carbon emissions and global warming?
Paper production has become increasingly “green”. The use of renewable biomass-based energy has enabled the industry to avoid the use of 1.3-million tonnes of fossil fuels annually. Also, South Africa’s paper plantations actually have a positive effect on the environment overall. They act as carbon sinks (by absorbing carbon dioxide) and mitigate greenhouse gases. South Africa’s timber plantations lock up around 900-million tonnes of CO2.

Are young trees harvested in a bid to save time and meet growing demand?
In South Africa, only 9% of the total plantation area is harvested annually, which is replanted within the same year. And only mature trees are harvested.

What about the “save a tree – don’t print this mail” argument?
Online communication and electronic document storage should not be touted as more environmentally friendly than print and post. As an example, one email with a 400KB attachment sent to 20 people is the energy equivalent to burning a 100W light bulb for 30 minutes. In fact, reading a paper newspaper can consume 20% less carbon than viewing news online.

Does recycling save trees?
Recycling paper doesn’t save trees, per se. Trees are farmed to make paper – and because paper fibres can only be recycled about seven times, we will always need new wood for paper. That said, one tonne of recovered paper saves three cubic metres of landfill space. So by recycling paper, we contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

What about buying recycled paper products? Does that save trees?
Always check the packaging labels for certification symbols. If it is imported, it will have a hidden carbon footprint due to the transport required to get it here. Rather, use locally produced FSC-certified virgin paper.

What does FSC-certified mean?
Over 80% of South Africa’s plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC certification means that the production process is tracked, from the plantation to the consumer, including all successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing and distribution.

Any last words to share?
Only those of Greenpeace co-founder Dr Patrick Moore: “Forestry is the most sustainable of all the primary industries that provide us with energy and materials. To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less. Using wood sends signals to the marketplace to grow more trees.”

blog comments powered by Disqus