| Nearly 4 billion trees worldwide are cut down each year for paper, representing about 35% of all harvested trees. Fortunately, many of the trees used for paper come from tree farms which are planted and replenished for that purpose. Pictured is a NASA image of total vegetation in the western hemisphere where most paper is consumed. The US is the world's largest consumer of paper by far. |
The First Paper…
| Over 6,000 years ago, the Egyptians gave birth to paper by using the papyrus plant (pictured) as the source. The "paper plant" is native to central Africa and the Nile River Valley and was in abundant supply in ancient Egypt. (Plant photos: NY Botanical Gardens) |
| Modern paper was invented in 105 AD by the Chinese when they used tree parts to make it. Some of the fine paper was made from bamboo fiber, such as the example pictured here. (Franklin Institute) |
The Modern Industry
| How Much Paper is in One Tree? |
It really all depends on the size of the tree. According to paper manufacturer Boise Cascade, however, a cord of wood (wood stacked 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet, or 128 cubic feet) produces nearly 90,000 sheets of paper or 2,700 copies of a 35-page newspaper!
The Environmental Impact
| Private forests - where trees are planted, harvested and replanted specifically for paper and lumber - are a major source for paper production. Pictured are trees being cleared for paper production. (Minnesota Forestry Association) |
Alternatives to Cutting Down Trees
| Nearly half of all paper produced in the US is kept out of landfills by recycling it. Here waste paper has been sorted and prepared for recycling. |
| The kenaf plant can quickly grow to between 12 - 18 feet in a few months. These plants provide about three-five times more fiber per harvest than southern pine trees, which can take 7-40 years before they can be harvested. This makes kenaf an attractive tree-substitute for making paper with a growing number of companies, like Vision Paper, which is devoted exclusively to making paper from kenaf. |
Did You Know?
- The first paper merchant in America was Benjamin Franklin, who helped to start 18 paper mills in Virginia and surrounding areas.
- Wood pulp is found in rayon material, laundry detergent, camera film, tires, and transmission belts.
- The trees used to make paper in the United States come mostly from softwood forests-mostly pine-in the South and West.
- In 1883 Philadelphia resident Charles Stillwell invented a machine to make brown paper bags so folks would have something to carry their groceries home in. Today more than 20 million paper bags are used annually in supermarkets throughout the country.
- 45% of all paper used in the United States is recycled. Hemp was grown commercially in the United States until the 1950s.
- The single oldest living thing on Earth is a tree, a 4,700 year-old bristlecone pine tree in Nevada. It was growing when the Egyptians built the pyramids.
- There are 747 million acres of forest land in the United States.
- In 1998, over 1.6 billion tree seedlings were planted in the United States.
Other Sources of Information
- The European Paper Industry
- American Forest and Paper Association
- The American Tree Farm System
- Environmental Protection Agency
- The Worldwatch Institute
- Boise Cascade Paper: Sustainability Policies
- About the Kenaf Plant
- Rainforest Action Network