How much paper do you think you use in a year? 50 pounds? 100 pounds?
The average American actually uses approximately 680 pounds of paper each year, according to the University of Southern Indiana’s recycling program website. The EPA estimates Americans on average consume the equivalent of one 100-foot tall Douglass fir tree in paper and wood products each year. And in 2010, Americans discarded $2.8 billion worth of paper, according to the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful.
Recycling paper is crucial for a variety of reasons. Paper products take up the most space in landfills. Not only does recycling paper reduce deforestation by requiring fewer trees to be cut down, but it also takes 40% less energy to produce recycled paper than to produce paper from virgin wood pulp. The production of recycled paper also requires 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution than that of virgin paper.
What Can I Do?
When thinking about waste management, the first step is always reduction. This means using fewer paper products, writing and printing on both sides of a page and other conservation and reduction efforts. Beyond reduction, however, recycling paper helps reduce water and energy consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA estimates that recycling one ton of paper saves:
- enough energy to power the average American home for six months
- 7,000 gallons water
- 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space
- 1 metric ton of carbon equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions
At the Tufts campus in Medford, paper and cardboard are the recyclable product most often diverted from landfills, compared to glass/metals/plastics, composted food, e-wastes and yard and lawn debris. In 2014, 664 tons of paper products were recycled on campus.
Where Does Recycled Paper End Up?
Recycled paper at Tufts is brought to a Materials Recovery Facility in Charlestown, which sorts, grades and bundles the materials before selling it to manufacturers, who then make it into new products. Notebook and computer paper can be recycled into a host of new paper products, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
We’re Not In This Alone!
In 2010, Americans recovered 63.5% of U.S. paper, which represents an 89% increase in paper recycling since 1990.
Since 1994, it’s been illegal to dispose of paper in landfills in Massachusetts according to the state’s waste bans. Nonetheless, residents throw away approximately 1.5 million tons of paper every year. If just half of this paper were recycled, the state would save nearly $52 million in disposal costs, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Additionally, the recycling of paper and other commonly recycled items is a job-creator; approximately 14,000 people in Massachusetts are employed at recycling facilities and businesses.
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