Save a tree! Print more stuff!

Wait…what?

by Kim Tonkovich; October 26, 2020

Throughout the years, how many times have you decided not to print and to instead send or receive something electronically, saying, “Save a tree!” You probably can’t even count. But I’ve got news for you. The much publicized notion that refraining from printing and opting for electronic communications will help save the environment is a MYTH.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…wait a minute. That can’t be true right?

It certainly is. And here are some fun facts to prove it.

  • In North America over 64% of timber harvested each year is used for making lumber and other wood products.  Pulpwood trees, which are unsuitable for lumber, are grown specifically to make paper.
  • 89% of the pulpwood trees harvested for paper-making are grown by private land-owners.
  • Paper is one of the most recycled materials in the world, with a recovery rate of over 65% in North America, and it can be recycled 5-7 times. 
  • Sustainability forest management project efforts preserve forest land.  Because of sustainability projects over the last sixty years, forest area in the United States has actually increased by over 3% and the volume of trees on timberland has increased by 58%.
  • It is estimated by Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, that every email sent or received emits 4 grams of CO2, between 19-50 grams if the message has an attachment. 
  • In 2015, a statistical report issued by The Radicati Group estimated that 205 billion emails were sent and received each day.  That’s a MINIMUM of 820 BILLION grams of CO2 emissions PER DAY, or 22 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from emails worldwide per year…the equivalent of 890 million cars.
  • A single sheet of paper produces roughly 0.0092 lbs of CO2 in its lifetime, and is recyclable.  A single email emits between 0.0088 – 0.1102 lbs of CO2 each time one is sent, received, replied to, or forwarded.
  • In a typical year, per person, just inbound emails add up to about 135kg of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of printing over 1.1 million sheets of paper.

There are a multitude of other pluses and minuses when comparing costs and benefits of printing on paper vs. electronic communications. Some considerations might be what the purpose of the message or output is, the target audience, the intended use, etc. But the myth that printing on paper is harmful to the environment should not bear impact on your decision-making. So happy printing! And be sure to recycle!


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References

  • Why Do So Many People Love Print on Paper?; Two Sides North America; July 19, 2018
  • The Carbon Footprint of Email (Is Quite Large!); Phil Riebel; PIWorld.com; February 01, 2017
  • Myths vs. Fact – Is The Paper and Packaging Industry Destroying Forests?; FSSI; August 16, 2017
  • Myth: Paper Has a High Carbon Footprint; SEMA; BlueStar Direct; June 01, 2014
  • Do You Really Need to Print That?: The Carbon Footprint of Copy Paper; Standard Carbon; June 30
  • How Bad is Email for the Environment?; Hayley Tsukayama; Washington Post; January 25, 2017

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