So there I was, on the toilet at work. We have a fine restroom, with beautiful stainless steel sinks, track lighting and jazz music piped in from above. It’s really nice. When I reached over for some toilet paper, I found that this company, like so many others, uses that horrible recycled paper that’s less than easy on the buttocks.
This brought to mind something I’ve known for a long time. Paper recycling is bad. It’s not just bad for your butt, when you look at the toilet paper and see bits of cardboard stuck in the white sheets. It’s not all about the substandard paper you’re running through your printer. Paper recycling is bad for the economy, and bad for the environment.
Most people believe what they’ve been told. They believe that recycling paper is a good thing. Stacking up those newspapers and taking them to the recycling center is supposed to help society by reducing waste, saving trees, and making a more economical product in the end. The problem is, it really does none of that.
Paper comes from trees. Trees are good. That’s hard to dispute. I like trees. Most paper, though, doesn’t come from the majestic oaks and redwoods. You won’t see clearcutting of virgin timber to make greeting cards. Paper is generally made from pulpwood. Pulp comes from softer wood trees like the pine. These trees grow relatively quickly. Longleaf pines grow quickly and easily enough that they are actually farmed. Land is set aside for the growing of pine trees. These trees grow, are cut down for goods, and then more are grown in their place. Trees, like so many of our resources, are renewable.
So, if recycling paper doesn’t actually save the mighty oaks, or the old-grown forests, it must at least be more economical, right? Unfortunately, that’s not so. Paper from trees is a relatively simple process. Recycling adds more steps. Paper must be collected, cleaned, shredded and treated chemically before it can then be turned into a paper that is generally of lesser quality than the original whence it came. The treatment of paper to be turned into more paper uses more chemical processing than the original paper did, and you KNOW that can’t be good for the environment. In the end, the recycled paper simply costs more than paper directly from wood pulp. The only reason the end cost is lower to the consumer is because the government subsidizes its production, passing the additional costs on to the taxpayer
So, recycled paper costs more to produce, causes higher tax rates, increases chemical pollution, and doesn’t save old growth forests. Does it at least help in controlling so-called “greenhouse gasses” to leave trees standing instead of chopping them down? No, it doesn’t.
You see, trees grow and they die. When a tree grows, it turns a load of carbon dioxide into oxygen. Trees aren’t the best at this job, but they aren’t slouches when it comes to oxygen production. After a while, though, the tree reaches a point where it reaches a balance. The cast off leaves or needles fall and begin to decay. This decay process produces carbon dioxide. The amount of carbon dioxide used up by the tree eventually reaches parity with that being thrown off by decaying matter. When the tree dies, the balance shifts completely toward carbon dioxide production. If, however, the tree is turned into other products, the cycle changes.
One of the major complaints about landfills is that the bio-matter in them doesn’t have the chance to break down and decay. If we simply buried the old paper in landfills, then it wouldn’t decay either. This would result in less carbon dioxide being produced. I argue that the BEST place for old paper is at the bottom of a landfill.
Next time you buy a pack of recycled printer paper or toilet paper, think about the damage you’re doing to the environment and the economy. When I’m in that beautiful bathroom at work, I’m just thinking about the damage that recycled paper is doing to my butt.