As Paper Use Rises, So Do Environmental Woes

Remember when computers first became popular and we were told the “paperless office” was just around the corner? Turns out a company’s use of email increases its use of paper by some 40 percent. U.S. paper producers now consume 1 billion trees a year — generating 735 pounds of paper for every American — and demand is rising. Only 5 percent of U.S. virgin forests remain, but 70 percent of the fiber consumed by the pulp-and-paper industry comes from virgin wood. The situation is equally grim around the world: Deforestation is rampant; chlorine treatment of paper has spread the noxious carcinogen dioxin into air, water, and soil; and recycling efforts — which have been flagging of late — have yet to have any appreciable effect on the world’s demand for wood pulp. Alternative sources of pulp — including kenaf (a long-fiber relative of cotton), hemp (still illegal to grow for industrial use in the U.S.), wheat straw, corn, and rice husks — hold promise but haven’t gotten a strong foothold yet.