Disclaimer: everything published below is not in any way guidelines or advice. We are not lobbyists or representative of any organization or movement. We are simply a group of concerned citizens who were lucky enough to be able to reach out to the communities and give voice to the real threats.
For more than a decade now, we have all been hearing one shameful statement:
Do not print this, save the trees!
That statement, intentionally or not, implies the following:
- Trees will die if you print anything out;
- Daring to print equals guilt, shame and realization that nature is so much worse because of you;
- Paper is a serious environmental threat.
And while it is easy to get swept off your feet by these depressing accusations and to go along with anything they say, we must stop and do our homework first.
Do we really know what the exact ramifications of printing something out are?
The argument of the trendy
These are the facts:
Fact 1. Companies and institutions lose around $40k yearly each, dealing with toners, printers, and paper, including the cost of errors, and lost time and information.
Fact 2. During paper and pulp manufacturing, a greenhouse gas called methane is emitted.
Fact 3. 80% of used paper end up in landfills, which also emit methane.
So does being paperless really help the trees in particular, as the trendy slogans claim, and the environment as a whole? Now let’s get our facts straight.
Fact-check 1: What is more harmful: cloud-based storages or paper?
Fact-check 2: What are the biggest methane producers?
Fact-check 3: What are landfills and can we please not put there any paper?
Fact checking fun
The mildest way to put it: we simply do not have enough of the relevant data. Throwing papers out is very damaging for the environment, but datacenters are not unblemished, either.
Those cloud storage facilities need uninterrupted power supply, and that power comes from a multitude of sources, like hydroelectric stations, nuclear power plants, or coal. In USA along, the mountaintop coal mining is directly responsible for deforestation of millions of acres in the Appalachian Mountains. They poison rivers and soil, and even if the trees in the area were left standing, they don’t stay standing for long.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere and melting ice. Methane is emitted in a natural way, but 60% of all methane emitted happens because of human activity.
Many paperless movement supporters bring up methane as a point against paper and pulp manufacturing, but the biggest emitters of methane are:
Cattle farming and agriculture: 35%
Fossil fuels production and use: 31%
Coal mining: 9%
In numbers, we can make the following comparison:
In 2011, landfill sites in US emitted a total of 103 million metric tons of methane. In the same year, paper and pulp industry in US emitted a total of 1.1 million metric tons of methane.
That’s 0.18% of all methane emissions.
By the way, trees, especially those growing in the rain forests, are cut down mostly for two purposes: to make room for cattle farming and to make room for soy farming as it is the cheapest food that the cattle would eat.
Paper manufactures, on the other hand, have to replenish the trees that they fell, as they need to have their raw materials renewable.
Landfill is a way of disposing of waste by burying it in the ground. It is practiced all over US without the use of special containers or making sure the garbage is sorted out into biodegradable.
Landfills, besides methane emissions are responsible for species extinction, water pollution, and deforestation.
How we cope
So does going paperless make any sense at all?
Yes, it does. It is one of the better ways for any enterprise to reduce expenses and improve time-management. And while we are enjoying the bliss of modern technologies, we must remember the price we are paying for it.
For those interested how we are living with ourselves after printing things out: we recycle. Paper can be reused up to 7 times, and recycling it actually reduces number of felled trees, cuts energy used in production in half, and lowers methane emissions by an unknown number.