And tell the real story of print and paper

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Global warming can no longer be doubted. Each passing year as new temperature records are broken, spring comes earlier, flowers bloom sooner and weather becomes more extreme, the ominous impact of decades of fossil fuel burning and its resultant CO2 emissions are beginning to show. Let's begin this science class by first asking you to watch two short lectures (5 minutes each) and then examine the evidence for a possible solution to help reduce the effects of global warming that the printing and paper industries can own and operate.


Dr Stanley Temple states at the end of this short lecture "That the situation seems hopeless, should not prevent us from doing our best." Powerful words and apt for our generation. The moment in history we find ourselves living in may one day be viewed upon by distant Historians as perhaps the most important times that human beings have ever lived through. Our actions are bringing the planet to a point that is quickly becoming an ecological paradigm shift.

The printing and paper industries can help to change the Earth's fortunes - and deal ink on paper firmly back into the mindset, not only of conscientious print buyers, but the UK Government itself.

This rhetoric may sound like just another pitch to encourage a greater use of recycled paper, but this could not be further from the truth. As a point of fact, we at FOPAP recommend the complete abandonment of paper recycling and replace it, in its entirety, with the use of virgin pulp for all papermaking.


OK. Here is the science behind the motive.

Wood contains carbon and paper is made out of wood. In carbon accounting terms both wood and paper are carbon ‘stocks'. There are several stocks of carbon that are considered in carbon accounting terms. These are:

  • The atmosphere
  • Forests
  • Roundwood
  • Products in use
  • Wood in use
  • Landfills

The more carbon that is stored in non-atmosphere stocks, the better it is in principle for global warming. Clearly, then, we need to favour processes, industrial or otherwise, that help to convert atmospheric CO2 into pure carbon so that it can be stored in one of these stocks.

Forests are a major carbon stock. There is less CO2 in the atmosphere as a result of saplings growing into mature trees (mature trees are carbon neutral). Moving carbon from one stock to another is a good thing. If a tree is chopped down and then turned into a product (paper as far as we are interested), the carbon that was in the Forest stock is moved to the Products in use stock. This creates a need for the Forest stocks to replenish itself as we naturally replace the trees felled with saplings that grow to sequester more CO2.

Eventually the Products in use stock gives up its carbon to the Landfills stock, as we dispose of it. Pure wood products such as furniture can hang around for a very long time in the Landfills stock as they contain high levels of lignin which naturally protects the wood from being broken down by decomposing agents. Paper products can also last a very long time (recently newsprint was recovered from landfill in New York perfectly intact dated 1940's). However, it is thought that they do decay over time releasing the CO2 back to the atmosphere. This cycle can take a very long time, and whilst paper and other wood products remain in landfill, there is less CO2 in the atmosphere stock.

Crucially, as a wood-based product, paper is a key carbon stock. It is a major component of the Products in use stock. As such, the more paper products there are, the better it is for the environment as it encourages an ongoing replenishment of carbon in the forest stock. That is, unless we recycle it. Recycling paper reduces the demand for saplings which in turn reduces the sequestration of CO2 in managed forests. More CO2 remains in the atmosphere as a result.

Each tonne of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and locked up in a tree is the equivalent of 3.7 tonnes of CO2 (due to its altered molecular composition). Paper is about 50% carbon, so a tonne of paper has the equivalent of about 1.8 tonnes of CO2 (lower grade papers can contain less carbon and therefore less CO2 equivalent). On this basis, it is perfectly possible to compute a net surplus of carbon remaining when paper has been manufactured and processed into a product, provided that the paper has not been recycled previously.

FOPAP have looked at this in detail and calculated the carbon account for manufacturing, printing and processing one tonne of paper. For prudence we have assumed a lower figure for CO2 content in paper of 38% and used figures published by Heidelberg to demonstrate the principle, as follows:

CO2 equivalent content in paper as carbon (kg's)
Assumed 38% carbon by mass
CO2 emissions due to paper manufacture (kg's)
Typical grade
CO2 emissions due to printing process (kg's)
Heidelberg's optimum efficiency figures
CO2 emissions due to ink manufacture (kg's)
Assumed 180% of the printing process
CO2 emissions due to alcohol manufacture (kg's)
Assumed 33% of the printing process
CO2 emissions due to cleaning agent manufacture (kg's)
Assumed 33% of the printing process
CO2 emissions due to water supply (kg's)
Assumed 150% of the printing process
CO2 emissions due to powder supply (kg's)
Assumed 20% of printing process
CO2 emissions due to other production processes (kg's)
Calculated as 30% of the printing process
CO2 emissions due to decay at controlled landfill (kg's)
Assumed as 8% in ideal storage conditions
Net CO2 absorbed / (emitted) (kg's)

On the basis of these figures alone, printing should be promoted as the most environmentally friendly communication medium on the planet, as the process is not only carbon neutral, but a net absorber of CO2. Also, the figures used for emissions in landfill could possibly be reduced to nil if we chose to store paper away from general landfill in compacted blocks. Learn more...

For all of the scientific data that supports our contention, please return here soon as we will be publishing the scientific facts shortly. In the meantime, why not join us.


(C) 2011