The Paper Chase

July 24, 1998

By Michael Jessen

It may seem like a drop in the recycling bin, but your paper recycling efforts are contributing to some pretty impressive numbers world-wide.

Between 1975 and 1995, world recovered-paper volume more than doubled, from 49 million to 114 million tons, according to pulp and paper industry data released recently. During that time, the wastepaper recovery rate -- the share of paper used that is recovered -- increased from approximately 38 percent to 41 percent.

This means the world is increasingly dependent on recycling by individuals and businesses to provide the feedstock for new paper.

Global consumption of recovered paper is now increasing at a faster rate than consumption of wood pulp. During that same 1975 to 1995 time period, use of wood pulp increased by less than two thirds.

Greater recycling has slowed growth in the demand for wood pulp, but it has served more as a supplement than a substitute for total fibre supply to industry. This is largely because global paper and paperboard consumption is increasing so rapidly that it has overwhelmed gains made by recycling.

In addition, paper fibres can only be recycled four to six times before they become too weak for use in paper production and end up used in production of tissue and toilet paper.

Wastepaper recovery rates vary dramatically among countries due to differences in environmental regulations, pulpwood supply, cost effectiveness, access to local markets, and existing infrastructure. For example, aggressive legislation to reduce solid waste in Germany has resulted in a recovery rate of 67 percent. In Japan, limited pulpwood resources have encouraged a heavy dependence on recovered paper and a 52 percent recovery rate for this major paper producer.

How does Canada fare by comparison? Of the top ten paper producers in the world, Canada ranks seventh in total recovered paper, just barely ahead of Italy, and a recovered paper rate of 40 percent.

Due to the large amount of trade in recovered paper, recovery rates do not necessarily indicate the amount of recovered paper a particular country actually uses to produce more paper. The wastepaper utilization rate is the ratio of recovered paper used in a given year to the total volume of paper produced.

Although Canada recovers 40 percent of what it consumes, for instance, our country is such a large producer and exporter that the relative contribution of recovered paper to overall paper production is 22 percent.

What should concern Canadians is the increasing demand for recycled paper containing post-consumer fibre. Post-consumer fibre is material such as cardboard, newspapers, printing and writing papers, and so on that is collected from homes and offices.

Canada's low population has been unable to supply the demand Canadian mills have for post-consumer paper giving Canada the distinction of being the world's top recovered paper importer. In 1995, for instance, Canada imported 1,923,000 tons of paper, fully one tenth of the world's total imports of 19,207,000 tons. Since almost all of these imports come from the U.S. and are paid for with a low-value Canadian dollar, the cost is high to the Canadian economy.

So there's your incentive to recycle more paper. Your country needs you! Make sure to recycle every scrap of recyclable paper. If you have questions about recyclability, contact your local recycling program coordinator -- 352-2412 or 1-800-268-7325 in the Regional District of Central Kootenay and 368-0232 or 1-800-355-7352 in the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Your efforts are not a drop in the bucket!

TRASH TIP - Every four years, we cut an area of forest as big as Vancouver Island to meet the demand for pulp and paper products for our home and export markets. Without recycled newspapers, more than 40,000 trees would have to be cut down each day to make the paper for Canada's daily newspapers alone.

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