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Does Paper Pollute the Environment?

Yes. Paper can be an factor in environment pollution. I believe that most of you did not know about it. You may have stopped using polythene products and converted into a person who would used papers products. Your intention is good but there are downsides of paper and pulp industry that many of us are unaware of.

When producing paper and after they are used, dumping them in landfill are the main ways of paper pollution. Let’s get into the details of paper pollution. So that we will be able to do the best for our environment. Paper is one of the most common material used in books, packaging and other daily used products. Most shipping companies and small business owners have changed their packaging into paper instead of polythene. It is actually a better option considering the amount of pollution occurs due to polythene and plastics. That means the amount of paper being used in daily basis is increases and due to that the production of paper is also increases.

Photo by Min An from Pexels

What is Paper?

Paper is made out of cellulose fibers which can be found in trees and grasses. As raw materials for the paper usually tree parts or grasses sometimes old rags are used. These materials are chemically or mechanically treated in order to get the desired product which is called “paper“. The oldest evidence of paper making that had been documented was found in China during 25–220 AD. You might be wondering about the Egyptians? Yes they used Papyrus to write things down, centuries before the Chinese. But Papyrus is not considered as true paper. Papyrus is a lamination of natural plant fiber, while paper is manufactured from fiber, whose properties have been changed by maceration.

During the 8th century the Chinese paper making had spread into the Islamic world. After the Battle of Talas two of the Chinese paper makers were caught by the Islamic. Soon after paper was made in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The secret of paper making then passed into the Europe. And in the Europe the paper and pulp became an industry. After a while the first water powered paper mills in the world were built in Europe. Today China and USA are the largest pulp and paper producing countries in the world.

How Paper is Made

There are two main type of paper making. They are manual paper making and industrial paper making, that . Manual paper making process can be summarized into 5 steps.

  1. Separating cellulose fiber from the raw materials
  2. Beating down fiber into a pulp
  3. adjusting the color, texture and other features of the desired outcome by adding chemical mixtures.
  4. Screening the solution
  5. Pressing and Drying

When paper is made industrially paper mills or paper machines are used. But the basic operation consists of the above procedure but less or no human power involved. In a paper machine the technology is more advanced and because of that different types of paper can be made out of the same machine. But in manual process a less amount of trees are used to produce 1 ton of paper. It is roughly around 12 trees.

How Paper Making Cause Pollution ?

In order to produce paper using the industrial paper making process huge amount of trees are being cut each year. It is calculated that 24 trees are cut down to produce a 1ton of paper. The trees that being cut are specially grown by the companies to reduce the deforestation but still a small percent of trees come from the ancient forests around the world.

Pulp and paper industry is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in the United States. The main pollutants of the pulp related industry are sulfur, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide. chlorine and chlorine based materials. Sulfur dioxide turns into sulfuric acid when it reacts with water. Sulfuric acid and nitric acid are the reason why we have acid rains.

Chlorine is used in the bleaching process of the pulp. The waste water contains the chlorine and chlorinated organic material. The presence of these organic substances results in high biological oxygen demand (BOD) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). It is calculated that the production of 1 ton of paper can contaminate about 76,000 liters of water.


COD means the Chemical Oxygen Demand or simply how much oxygen is needed for the chemical reactions in a water sample. It is a measurement used in determining the water quality. When COD is higher that means the quality of the water sample is not good.

Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) is the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) needed by aerobic biological organisms (such as aerobic bacteria) to break down organic material present in a given water sample at certain temperature over a specific time period.

An industrial paper mill emits air pollutants that contribute to smog, acid rains and global warming. In 2015 the total amount of 313,000 tons (690 million pounds) toxic waste was released and 20% of them were due to paper industry. Studies shows that each year 100 million kg of toxic waste is released to the environment.

Discarded paper or used paper end up in landfill when not recycled. The paper in landfills is about 26%. In a research done in 2001 in a surrounding area of a Russian paper mill 59-79 different types of organic compounds have found in the samples.

When water bodies that has still water such as lakes or ponds get these organic materials the nutrition value of them increases and cause Eutrophication. Because the nutrition value is high the algae begins to grow more rapidly and covers the surface of the lake. Because of this algae cover the sun light does not get through the surface and the under water plants begins to die. Eventually even the algae dies and sinks to the bottom of the lake. The bacteria in the lake decomposes the algae and other dead plant materials using the oxygen in the water. Because the dissolved oxygen in the water is reduced the older organisms such as fish die due to lack of oxygen.

Also when paper is thrown to the environment without bleaching the color, the heavy metals in those inks and other colored papers released into the environment. Specially when those papers in landfills, these heavy metals drains through and finally add up in food chains. Among those heavy metals are Barium, Cadmium and Lead.

Read about the Lead Poisoning here

Paper Recycling

Photo by ready made from Pexels

Now you know that how much damage can paper do to the environment. The best option for us to recycle. Though trees are grown specially for the paper we can still reduce the amount of trees cut down by recycling and reusing the papers. Roughly 80,000-100,000 trees are cut down daily around the world for paper. Paper can be recycled 5-7 times. Think the amount of trees that would not be cut for the paper.

The recycled paper does less pollution than when the paper is made from scratch. Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 1400 liters of oil, three cubic yards (2,300 liters) of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 26,000 liters of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds (27kg) less of air pollution. The construction costs of a paper mill that is designed to use recycled paper is 50% to 80% less than the cost of a mill using new pulp.

Now you know that paper actually contribute to the environment pollution. Also the importance of recycled paper. I believe that you would think twice before the next time when you throw away paper instead of recycling them.

Share this article with the loved ones to educate them about the paper pollution and its consequences

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