Paper Wastage and Climatic Impact: SaaS an Immediate Solution

Since its invention, paper has been widely used around the globe for generations to transfer acquired knowledge. It has been a resilient platform for recording and storing information, and has been a solid contributor to the rise of our modern human society.

22 January 2010

This is the next in a series of guest blog posts by Intralinks’ collaborators, partners, and vendors. Horwath MAK offers clients expertise in auditing and accountancy, risk consultancy, management consultancy and structured business support services throughout the UAE, Oman, Azerbaijan and India.

Ancient Egyptians invented paper some 3,000 years ago, from beaten strips of papyrus plants. The immediate predecessor to modern paper is believed to have originated in China in approximately the 2nd century AD. Since its invention, paper has been widely used around the globe for generations to transfer acquired knowledge. It has been a resilient platform for recording and storing information, and has been a solid contributor to the rise of our modern human society.

Much like today, even in the early days, the source of deriving paper was trees which contain biodegradable fibers. Prior to 19th century, due to the large abundance of trees and less strain from population demand, paper was produced adequately to fulfill the rising demand. However, with the spread of industrialization in the 19th century the use of this old invention exploded and paper began to be manufactured at industrial levels to cater the growing demand. This lead to the cutting of trees in abundance which later saw widespread destruction of forests across various continents.

Global deforestation sharply accelerated around 1852. It has been estimated that about half of the earth's mature tropical forests — between 7.5 million and 8 million km2 (2.9 million to 3 million mi2) of the original 15 million to 16 million km2 (5.8 million to 6.2 million mi2) that until 1947 covered the planet — have now been cleared. Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400% in the past 40 years with 35% of harvested trees being used for paper manufacture. Logging of old growth forests accounts for less than 10% of wood pulp, but is one of the most controversial issues. Plantation forest, from where the majority of wood for pulping is obtained, is generally a monoculture, and this raises concerns over the ecological effects of the practice. Deforestation is often seen as a problem in developing countries but also occurs in the developed world.

Due to the abundance in availability of cheap paper and the lack of proper ecological reforms a big percentage of the globally manufactured paper ends up as discarded waste instead of being recycled. A majority of this discarded paper ends up in landfills where it biologically degrades to release the greenhouse gas methane which harms the environment adversely. Although methane could be captured and used to produce energy, major part of it is released in the atmosphere. Today discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35% by weight of municipal solid waste (before recycling) which directly contributes to the release of methane in the atmosphere.

Although paper recycling is essential in lowering the risk of pollution, it is also a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during deinking. Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year. Worldwide, the pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for 4% of the entire world's energy use. The pulp and paper industry uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry.

It is clear that paper along with other pollutants including plastic and industrial waste, contributes heavily to environment pollution. Studies show that paper amounts to approximate 46% of all office and commercial waste. The US Department of Commerce figures indicate that paper and printing purchases represent between 5% and 15% of all corporate expenditures exclusive of labor. The average office worker uses over 10,000 sheets of printing and copying paper per year. According to the United Nations Population Division dataset in 2005 the per capita consumption of paper in the US alone was over 654 lbs and over 443 lbs for the UK against the average per capita paper usage of 110 pounds worldwide. Developed nations per capita paper usage stood at 380 lbs per year whereas for the developing nations per capita usage was less than 52 lbs which includes India and China, with their combined 2 billion inhabitants. Paper consumption has increased six-fold over the past 50 years.

Unless significant measures are taken on a worldwide scale, by 2030 there will be major reduction in forest cover with only 10% remaining, with another 10% in a degraded condition. 80% forest cover will have been lost, and with them hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable species. It is estimated unless solid measures are taken all tropical forests will be gone by 2090.

Every pound of waste that business generates, whether it is toxic or not, is a drain on profitability, productivity and environmental performance. Today technology offers an opportunity to rectify our past mistakes and makes it possible for us to achieve greater success through increased profitability by reducing waste. Adopting effective IT systems which ascertains reduction in paper use and achieves streamlined operations is a bigger priority today then ever. Technologies which offer such initiatives must be adopted within the corporate governance and corporate social responsibility frameworks globally. Digital data management and reporting has today evolved to effectively substitute paper as the traditional medium to hold and transfer acquired knowledge. It is now unto us on how soon we choose to react and start taking serious measures to protect the environment for the future generations to come.