Skip to Content

Truth or Fiction?

We know what you’re thinking. A paper company touting environmental responsibility? While making paper has an environmental footprint, many of the environmental criticisms made against paper have been misinformed, and therefore its benefits are sometimes overshadowed by misleading environmental claims.  So, if what you’ve heard about paper is more fiction than fact, what’s the rest of the story? Take this short quiz to discover the truth about paper and sustainability.

No. 1

Making paper destroys forests.

V ou F ?

FALSE: No, in fact the opposite is true.

Paper is made from cellulose fiber, which generally comes from trees, but this doesn’t automatically equate to the destruction of forests. Companies like Domtar source their primary raw material from the forest, therefore it is in their best interest to ensure sustainability for the company’s long-term survival.

The concept of managed forests means that for every tree harvested, several more are planted or naturally regenerated in their place. In fact, according to the USDA Forest Service, four million trees are planted every day in the United States. Of this amount, the wood and paper products industry plants on average 1.7 million trees daily,1 excluding millions of additional seedlings regenerated naturally. In Canada, natural regeneration is supplemented by the planting of 600 million seedlings per year.2 Increasing demand for forest products has provided powerful incentive for private landowners to reforest their harvest.

According to The State of America’s Forests, a report released by the Society of American Foresters, replanting and reforestation efforts have helped keep forestland stable. There are nearly 750 million acres of forests in the U.S. — about the same as 100 years ago. Annual net growth of U.S. forests is 36 percent higher than the volume of annual tree removals. Total forest cover in the U.S. and Canada basically remained the same from 1990 to 2005.3 Furthermore, less than one half of one percent of Canada’s forestland is harvested annually.4 Sustainable forests are also carefully managed to help prevent catastrophic damage from fires, disease and insects.

It is also important to remember that the majority of the forest provides non-paper products. Lumber is used for building houses and furniture, while tree-based chemicals are used in products such as turpentine, chewing gum and toothpaste. In addition, a well-managed forest provides many recreational opportunities such as hiking, hunting, camping, fishing and bird watching.

"When people use more paper, suppliers plant more trees. If we want bigger commercial forests, then we should use more paper not less. Our policies should directly protect important wildlife habitats, not try to reduce our demand for paper."

Edward L. Glaeser,
Professor of Economics at Harvard University
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company

1 Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Program
2,4 Forest Products Association of Canada
3 FAO of The United Nations

No. 2

Paper is bad for the environment.

V ou F ?

FALSE: No, paper is one of the few truly sustainable products.

For every tree that is harvested in a well-managed forest, several more are replanted or naturally regenerated. And as young trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Furthermore, as a wood-based product, paper also continues to store carbon throughout its lifetime.

There are a number of credible and independent certification systems that help to ensure certified paper originates from responsibly managed forests. All Domtar’s 13 pulp and paper mills are Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC®), Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) and/or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification™ (PEFC®) certified.  Additionally, 100% of Domtar-managed lands in Quebec are both FSC and SFI certified.  

Certification of sustainable forest management continues to increase every year. The three major U.S. certification systems (SFI, FSC and American Tree Farm System) together certify more than 107 million acres, representing 14 percent of total U.S. forests. Some 25 percent of private U.S. forestland is now certified.1

Sustainable forest management is contributing to carbon sequestration and storage. In the United States, the total carbon sequestered by forests and the creation of wood products during the 1990s reached almost 200 megatons per year – around 10 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.2

Planting new trees can significantly help to combat global warming. For every ton of wood a forest produces, it removes 1.47 ton of CO2 from the air and replaces it with 1.07 ton of oxygen.3

Paper is a responsible choice because it comes from a renewable resource and is the product of sunlight, soil, nutrients and water. In addition, paper is one of the most recyclable products on the planet.

1  American Forest & Paper Association
2,3  Society of American Foresters: Managed Forests in Climate Change Policy

No. 3

Making paper consumes a lot of energy and fossil fuels.

V ou F ?

FALSE: Not really.

Making paper the first time around does require a lot of energy, as is the case with other transformation industries, such as making aluminum from bauxite, or steel from iron ore. However, over the past several decades, the pulp and paper industry has made an impressive commitment to fuel efficiency and independence. Companies have invested significantly in their infrastructures in order to increase their efficiency and replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources, such as spent cooking liquor from its pulping processes and biomass (bark and other wood wastes). This effort has helped to reduce significantly non-renewable resources while reducing harmful emissions.

In fact, the forest products industry leads all other manufacturing sectors in onsite electricity generation, meeting more than half of its own energy needs. At many mills, self-generated electricity goes beyond serving onsite production needs by providing supplemental electricity to the surrounding electric power grid.1

In 2012, Domtar's total use of renewable energy at its mill operations was 76.3%.  By making paper using more renewable energy and increasing their energy efficiency, Domtar’s mills continue to reduce their carbon footprint.

At the same time, the carbon footprint associated with information and communication technologies is quickly growing. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company projects that computers, data centers, mobile phones and telecommunication networks could be among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases by 2020. Going “paperless” does come with a cost.

1 American Forest & Paper Association

No. 4

Paper has a high carbon footprint.

V ou F ?

FALSE: It’s not as high as you think.

A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact that human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere that have arisen through the manufacture and distribution of a product or service.

Burning fossil fuels, such as natural gas, oil and coal, is a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The pulp and paper industry largely utilizes renewable energy sources that are considered carbon neutral to generate steam and electricity. This means that the CO2 emitted from their combustion is organic in origin, and as such, is viewed as neutral in terms of climate change contribution. Sustainably managed forests are approximately carbon neutral. They form a mosaic across the landscape in which the growth of trees over a large area will compensate for the carbon lost through annual logging of a much smaller area.1

“In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”
—Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

1 World Resources Institute

No. 5

Recycled paper is always better for the environment than virgin paper.

V ou F ?

FALSE: Not necessarily.

Virgin fiber harvested using recognized third-party certified sustainable forestry practices is an environmentally responsible option to recycled fiber in communications. While recycled paper does reduce waste paper going to landfill, paper’s full life cycle must be considered – not just the fiber source. Domtar favors the use of Life Cycle Management concepts to determine where and when it is appropriate to use recycled fiber in the papermaking process.

Recent peer-reviewed Life Cycle Management studies have demonstrated that the environmental benefits of recycled fiber in the production of business papers can vary greatly depending on the source of the paper being recycled, its prior destination (landfill or another use), and the facility where it is being recycled into new paper (trucking distances and the facilities’ impact on climate change).

There are intrinsic limitations to the use of recycled fiber that make the need for virgin fiber inevitable. These include the loss of yield and strength during the repulping and deinking processes, as well as increased yield loss as the fiber is recycled again and again. Generally, fiber can be recycled no more than five to seven times.

Domtar supports the collection and use of recycled fiber, especially in the case of certain ideally-suited paper applications, such as single use products (e.g. tissue), short-lived products (e.g. newsprint) or products that do not require high optical surface quality (e.g. containerboard, wallboard, etc.). Not all categories of paper can be recycled for use in printing and writing grades.

Both recycled and virgin fiber have their purpose and justification. The paper industry can use all of the recycled fiber available. But the recycled paper industry depends on virgin fiber. We’re all part of the same cycle.

No. 6

Paper contributes significantly to landfill.

V ou F ?

FALSE: Paper is one of the most recycled products, compared to metal, glass and plastic.

Thanks to industry leadership and the tireless efforts of the millions of Americans who recycle paper at home, work, and school every day, paper recovery has reached record levels. In 2012, over 65 percent of the paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling. Since 1990, when the paper industry established its first recovery goal to advance recycling in the United States, paper recovery has grown by more than 85 percent.2 Comparatively, the recovery rate for metal is 35 percent; glass is 27 percent; and plastic is only 8 percent.3

Due to a steady demand for recycled products and increasing demand for recovered paper products, Canada’s paper recovery rate continues to increase, reaching 73 percent in 2011.4

1,2,4 American Forest & Paper Association
3 Environmental Protection Agency
4 International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA) 2013 Sustainability Progress Report