Video from group n° 005


Welcome to the webpage of group n° 005

The topic we have decided to explore is the following : The way to a PAPERLESS ERA

HOW can we IMPROVE? Natural Ink, Education and Awareness Campaigns, Innovation to make recycling methods more efficient.
….BUT what if we could stop paper consumption altogether?

Our video

Our paper

The way to a PAPERLESS ERA

Worldwide paper production and consumption have grown at a relevant rate in the last decades. Paper manufacturing is a process that requires a huge amount of energy and has a non-negligible impact in terms of sustainability. Paper production (including paper-products and packaging) worldwide is around 400 Million tons each year (China and US are the major producers) and since 1990 paper consumption has increased more than 125%. Nevertheless, the distribution in the different areas of the world is extremely skewed: while the average annual paper consumption is 54.71 Kg/ person, in North America and Western Europe it is respectively 229 kg/person and 179 kg/person while in Africa is less 8 kg/person. Almost two thirds of global paper production is consumed by Europe, North America and China.

The most widespread and common “ecological-friendly” solution to paper waste is currently recycling. While it is true that 1 ton of recycled paper saves up to 25,000 litres of water and over 15 trees, recycling process has some shortcomings and it has a relevant impact in terms of environmental sustainability, as we show in our video, such as the physical limit of paper fibres, amount of water used in the process and chemicals used to remove inks. Another issue related to recycling is related to the energy used in the process: although recycling paper saves from 28% up to 70% of energy, compared to the amount of energy used to produce virgin paper, it is still controversial because of the type of energy used. Paper recycling often uses fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Moreover, it creates solid wastes derived from the recycling process, like small fibres and ink, which are oftenly sent to landfills.

The companies which recycle paper or which use recycled paper promote and advertise the process as being highly eco-friendly and often not providing a full disclosure of the process, the various passages in details, the energy and resources used in the process and its shortcomings. Often recycling is perceived as a final solution while it is far from it. As showed in the video, there is a physical limit to the number of times paper fibres can be recycled. Therefore, recycling cannot stop deforestation and other negative consequence of paper manufacturing as virgin paper will be needed anyway at a certain point. Paper industry is one of the main cause of deforestation, which has in turns consequences on climate change and biodiversity. Globally over 35% of timber harvested is used by paper industry.

Understanding the impact of recycling is essential on a large-scale which if it is done effectively can bring in massive positive results, beneficial to mutual existence of human beings and environment. However, in the end, considering all the downsides of paper recycling, the best way to reduce paper-related pollution and energy use is to cut back on paper consumption altogether, which will decrease the demand for new or recycled paper. It is therefore also essential to modify the behaviours linked to paper use and consumption, especially in schools and offices where 60% of the waste produced is paper. Over 95% of documents and information is recorded on paper-based support, instead of simply in digital form. For instance, offices in USA alone consume over 10 trillion sheets of paper every year. An average employee gets in contact with 10,000 sheets of paper each year and slightly less than half of these papers become waste by the end of a single day. Therefore, we see how the behavioural aspect plays a major role.

The definitive solution to this problem is offered through a change of behaviours and a widespread digitalization, which is crucial to achieve the “paperless era”. Moreover a cut back of paper use will address also a series of other hidden burdens associated with paper use, both virgin and recycled, which could be beneficial to all: there are in fact various and relevant hidden costs associated to each sheet of paper, such as storage, copying, postage and recycling. According to a study of researchers from Minnesota University, these hidden costs would be more than 30 times the purchasing costs. Other relevant solutions can be obtained by changes in the statutory provisions of a country on landfilling or recycling, or even application of specific taxes on technologies such as waste incineration.

Considering the actual scenery, is quite clear how difficult can be providing a clear cut-cost plan for recycling practices, but it is also easy to understand that policy-makers can try to stimulate the various actors in the market to raise investments in recycling and implement technologies