Monday, 12 March 2012

The paper paradox

Today I returned to a role I had for almost five years, from 2005 to 2009, as co-ordinator of the European Environmental Paper Network. One of my mottoes in life is 'never go back', but I have made an exception here, and after two and a bit years, I'm putting the hat back on. At the end of my first day, I'm so glad I made the decision.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm passionate about trees and forests. I am a woodland animal and I am fierce in my desire to protect the world's forests. But I'm also a writer, and that inevitably means significant paper use.

Therein lies a paradox. On the one hand I want vast amounts of paper to come pouring off presses with my writing on it. On the other hand, I want the paper industry to stop destroying precious forests.

This paradox led me to seek answers to how paper can be sustainably produced and used, so that my literary appetite wouldn't need to be satisfied at the expense of endangered habitats or people dependent upon them. Part of the result of this search was a book, PaperTrails: from trees to trash – the true cost of paper (published by Virgin Books on 100% recycled paper and available paper free as an ebook – of course!).

The other result was that I found myself putting my energy into a growing, global campaign to push the pulp and paper industry towards a future where it is benign, sustainable and life-enriching.

At the moment there are still parts of the paper industry which are far from benign or sustainable, and as I read through some documents today I remembered why I need to return to the job of helping to transform the industry. This excerpt from a funding bid will give you a flavour:

'The paper industry uses 42% of the world’s industrial timber, more water per tonne than any other industry in industrialised countries and as much energy per tonne as steel manufacture. As well as its climate change emissions, the pulp and paper industry’s impacts include large-scale deforestation and forest degradation, human rights abuses in many countries, emission of toxic pollutants like dioxin, and more domestic waste than any other material. Globally, paper production, use and disposal are responsible for more climate change emissions than aviation, yet this has not been fully appreciated. The life-cycle of a single sheet of A4 paper causes the release of as much greenhouse gas as a light bulb left on for one hour. Just 10% of the world's population (Western Europe and North America) consume more than 50% of the world’s paper. Europeans and Americans use 6 times as much paper as the world average.

'Most if not all of the negative effects of pulp and paper production could be radically reduced: the destruction of natural and high conservation-value forests could be entirely stopped; the climate-impact of paper-production radically reduced by maximising the recycled fibre content and using best available technology; the emission of pollutants dramatically reduced by using totally chlorine free (TCF) bleaching technology. Most importantly, perhaps, the unsustainable consequences of paper production could best be mitigated by reducing the over-consumption of paper products in the most developed parts of the world. The EEPN is determined to work towards these goals in close collaboration with its members.'

And I'm proud to be working with them again.


  1. I came across a song by Camille about the French obsession with photocopying, and immediately thought of you! You can see the lyrics here It's very funny.

  2. Thanks Elizabeth! I can make out most of the lyrics of 'La France' once I see it written down. Very funny!