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Increased Paper Consumption: Best Bet to Combat Climate Change

– Deepak Kumar Khare

The real answer to challenges such as reducing massive carbon footprint and combating climate change lies in encouraging usage of paper and paper products, catalysing plantation efforts. For ensuring and enhancing green cover in India, encouraging farmers to undertake tree farming on their private/community land is the way forward. The Indian pulp and paper Industry of late has undertaken massive plantations of short rotation species through people’s participation under their farm/social and agro-forestry programmes.

25Many emails convey message with a tagline at the bottom of their mails: Pl print this only if it’s really necessary……….Thanks for not printing it and supporting in protecting a tree and thus environment. ATMs also flash messages asking whether print is needed to record the transaction; if print is not taken, they thank and convey a message that you have helped in protecting the environment by not printing the receipt. Imagine an ATM where 1.0 – 1.5 Ton AC is continuously running for 24 hrs and advocating in protecting the environment by way of requesting not to print a tiny paper slip. A big irony!

The disturbance of nature in one way or the other has existed since the inception of mankind. It’s just a perspective to think something as detrimental to nature based on the ease or convenience in a line of work. About 4-5 decades before, we started feeling shortage of wood as wood and wood product demand started increasing; since then, instead of supporting tree plantations to fulfil wood demand, we started substituting wood by steel, aluminium and plastic, supposing them as recyclable and instrumental in protecting trees. However, massive deforestation happened for mining, infrastructure development, and other basic needs giving rise to permanent scar on earth which further reduced valuable carbon sinks.

26Had we avoided the makeshift or interim measures mentioned above as wood substitutes and encouraged wood and wood products, we would have undertaken plantations of suitable rotation tree crops to ensure fulfilment of wood and wood products demand. The story then would have been entirely different today!

For combating climate change and arresting global warming, technocrats, scientists and world leaders advocate improving efficiency of technology; conserving, reusing and recycling of resources; reducing usage of fossil fuels; and moving towards environment-friendly renewable energy sources like solar and wind. However, there are still lots to be done in India towards carbon sequestration by way of working towards enhancing carbon sinks, i.e. improving green cover, in other words, undertaking afforestation on degraded lands and on government lands. The public sector in India has been laggard in this respect so far.

For ensuring and enhancing green cover in India with almost negligible support from the govt., the real answer lies in encouraging farmers to undertake tree farming on their private/community land. The Indian pulp and paper Industry of late has undertaken massive plantations of short rotation species through people’s participation under their farm/social and agro-forestry programmes. For the last three decades, the quantum of these plantations have increased and reached to a level of 1,25,000 hectares/annum(IPMA-2015-16) and cumulatively about 0.9-1.0 million hectares of afforestation have been accomplished by the Indian pulp and paper industry so far.

This success story is fundamentally based on two premises, viz. the induced demand by the paper industry, and making plantations lucrative to farmers by paying them good prices. Moreover, undertaking tree improvement research to support improved returns to the farmers from the same unit of land has also proved detrimental why the social or agro-forestry has been a boon both to the industry and farmers.

The favourable outcomes of industry-driven plantation projects reaffirms our conviction that if we continue to enhance the demand of paper and paper products, there would be a significant rise in such plantation drives, creating credible carbon sinks. The paper industry indeed has planted far more than what they need and has indirectly supported other demands like of wood poles, veneer and fuel wood.

The pulp and paper production has always been viewed as a polluting process. Contrary to this long held belief, the real answer to challenges such as reducing massive carbon footprint and combating climate change lies in encouraging usage of paper and paper products, catalysing plantation efforts. Associated with the paper industry, there are many myths which must be dispelled.

Myth 1: Paper and Paper Products Have High Carbon Footprint

27Fact: It’s not only paper and paper products that have carbon footprint. However, levelling that as ‘high’ or ‘low’ is quite contentious and more often is based on faulty scientific facts, creating myths in general populace, which seldom have time to undergo deep study of authentic data. Producing 10 kg of paper, what an average Indian consumes every year, creates between 6.5-12.5 kg of CO2 depending on the source of energy (source:www.paperonweb.com). That’s comparable to the CO2 produced by an average family car running over a meagre distance of 50 km. There is an article by Grey sterling, highlighting the study conducted by a Harvard university physicist on Times online, mentioning that online Google search lasting few minutes can generate about 5-10 kg of CO2 and boiling a cup of tea in a pan generates about 15 g of CO2. (Please refer below mentioned graphical representation.)

Paper and paper packaging have the least carbon footprint while others have on the higher side. It’s just our point of view and way of thinking which makes us adversely biased towards paper and paper products.

Myth 2: Consuming Paper and Paper Products Destroys Natural Forests

Fact: How can a person/organisation/ Industry destroy assets on which its life and business is dependent? Secondly, forest based industries are no longer dependent on natural forests; scenario is altogether different today and it’s all about people’s participation and pulp wood planting, which is undertaken by farmers to get better returns from their land. Through such exercise, overall sustainability of farmers and as well as industries is maintained. Thus, paper making induces more planting of trees.

In the last 10 years, paper industry in India has grown by about 2 million MT of wood requirement, which means a need of additional 20,000 hectares of plantations. However, IPMA data reflects that about 3 times additional hectares have been planted on an annual basis. This clearly corroborates that demand of paper drives growth of the plantations.

Myth 3: Paper Recycling is Limited and Packaging Goes Waste

28Fact: Developed nations have paper and paper packaging as one of the most preferred packaging solutions whereas developing and underdeveloped nations still at large uses non paper based packaging materials like plastics, polythene, etc. which are detrimental to environment. This awareness though is gradually percolating in amongst other nations too to discourage non paper based packaging.

Other developed nations have high rate of collection of waste paper and it reaches up to a level of more than 80 percent; in India, it is still too low to the level of about 29-30 percent only. A tremendous opportunity lies in substituting other non-biodegradable materials with paper if we optimize our waste paper collection and recycling.

It becomes pertinent to mention special nature of multifold recycling capabilities of paper and highlighting how paper usage is environment-friendly. Below is the paper product life cycle which highlights high level of paper recycling capability as much as 6 times* which not only reflects its high environment-friendly nature, but leads to reduced consumption of non-bio-degradable materials as well, thus protecting environment and supporting climate change mitigation approaches.

With keeping sustainability at the forefront, paper is one of the most environment-friendly products available in the market.

Myth 4: Old/Long Gestation Trees Better Carbon Sinks Than Short Gestation Trees

Fact: All the tree species have their own physical rotation (the year when Current Annual Increment (CAI) is equal to Mean Annual Increment (MAI)). When a tree is young, it grows faster and its CAI is higher and thus, for short rotation crops (SRCs), CAI equals MAI much earlier than long rotation crops (LRCs). This simply connotes that SRCs are fast growing and sequesters more carbon than LRCs. Common sense may suggest that bigger and older trees sequester more carbon than the younger ones but with the above technical fact it is evident that younger trees are more efficient at sequestering.

The tree, after attaining its physical rotation, starts retardation in growth along with natural decomposition which releases CO2 and other greenhouse gases in atmosphere. To maximise the carbon storage with the support of trees, young trees become the biggest resource with their short rotation nature as they are being grown, harvested and re-grown for the paper production.

Myth 5: Paper Manufacturing Consumes High Energy

Fact: Any manufacturing process requires energy and so does paper production. Paper making process however is a very efficient user and producer of energy where chemical recovery with its usage is beyond 94 percent in most of the cases in India. On the global level, especially USA and Europe, forest-based sector is the least fossil fuel intensive of any sector. Moreover, the paper industry is the single largest producer and consumer of renewable bio energy where the black liquor generated in boiler and biomass is used in power generation.

The paper industry has evolved over a period of time, beginning with the consumption of bamboo sourced from forests to now consuming only farm grown wood like eucalyptus, subabul, poplar and casuarinas, thus indirectly supporting natural forests conservation and enhancing green cover. With better, improved, and efficient technology adoption like ECF and Ozone bleaching, the paper industry has become more environment-friendly.

These facts indeed vindicate the claim that the paper is one of the most sustainable of products made with one the most of renewable resources. The increased paper consumption is sure to give fillip to plantation drives, thereby enhancing green cover and mitigating the carbon footprint. Paper consumption is in the present scenario is the most likable solution than other media, purportedly a substitute of paper, which generate a lot of hazardous, non-degradable, and almost non-recyclable waste. So, next time, don’t think twice before printing your mail!

Mr. Deepak Kumar Khare is
Sr. General Manager- Raw Material
Procurement at Orient Paper Mills Amlai,
(CK BIRLA group/ ORIENT paper)

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