Dead trees: How much are we consuming?

Real Carpio So

Real Carpio So

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Aldous Huxley

These are facts. Approximately 324 liters of waters are used to produce 1 kilogram of paper. Average worldwide annual paper consumption is 48 kilograms per person; in North America, average is about 300 kilograms. The US approximately cuts more than 68 million trees each year to produce catalogues and direct mails. It continues to publish over 2 billion books, 359 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers every year. And about 4 million tons of office paper are discarded per year.

In China, 10,000 trees are cut down annually to make holiday cards. Each tree provides oxygen enough for three people to breathe.

With current technology, paper has become a cheap commodity. Its disposability has contributed to a high level of consumption and wastage. Globally, paper consumption has increased by about 400 percent in the past four decades.

Paper production pollutes air, water, and land. Paper contains toxic inks, dyes, chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic. When buried in landfills, these chemicals contaminate ground water. Moreover, when it rots or is composted, it emits methane gas which is 25 times more toxic than carbon dioxide.

The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability the future generations to meet their own needs.” This considers the economic, environmental and social consequences of a product or process over its entire life cycle. For paper, these processes include: raw materials extraction and processing (wood, waste paper), pulp production, use (paper manufacturing and paper products), disposal (landfills, recycling, etc.), and transportation.

Carbon footprint is a collective index of the consequences. It is often ignored because it is neutral and hardly vivid. The inclusive effects are: eutrophication (reduction of water quality), air acidification, carcinogens, health problems, resources depletion, eco-toxicity, among others.

According to the American Forest and Paper Association, one ream of uncoated free sheet (white bond paper, approximately 500 sheets) produces 4.25 kilograms of carbon dioxide gas.

In the Philippines, there is hardly any study done on the use and consumption of paper. However, by using simple arithmetic and common sense, one can easily compute a reasonable approximation.

For most colleges in the Philippines, there are at least two (2) major examinations for every course. These are the preliminary/midterm and final examinations. Almost all of these examinations are printed on paper. They run to four to five pages. Multiply this by the number of students, the number of courses, and the number of terms in a year, then voila! One will have a rough estimate of how many sheets/reams of paper are consumed. This figure excludes the amount of paper used for the end-term requirements, e.g. term papers, theses, etc.

An on-going study of paper use in one of the colleges in Metro Manila is an example. For one of its departments alone, initial estimates show that for examinations alone use 1.8 million sheets of paper (more than 3,500 reams) annually. The end-term requirements account for an additional consumption of another 1,000 reams of paper.

Almost 2.5 million sheets of paper (5,000 reams) annually for one department alone. Now multiply that by the number of departments . . . colleges . . . universities . . . OMG!

“Ignorance is when you choose not to understand something.” (Sarah McLachlan)

Real Carpio So lectures on strategic and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.


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