Electronic Communication or Paper What’s Greener?
I promised to continue with the subject of International Paper’s brochure that asks the question, “Are pixels greener than paper?” As I said in my last blog, before reading their information I would have answered, “Of course, pixels are greener than paper.” After all, no trees have to be sacrificed to create electronic blips. Now I see that there is an argument to be made. You may disagree with International Paper, it’s no skin off my nose. I’m only serving as a purveyor of information. When it comes to hot potato issues like the environment, I tend to run to the middle ground myself. The hostility that surrounds such issues tends to be fierce and in the end neither of the more radical views will prevail anyway. That being said, I think it wise to listen to all points of view so I can find the middle ground for myself.
The previous post discussed energy use. From I.P.’s brochure Down To Earth I quote, “Every decision to communicate has some impact on the environment. For example, whether we email or send a letter, we consume energy and resources. There are environmental trade offs in every choice we make, and there is no simple ‘right answer.’ Effective stewardship requires a careful examination of the larger picture that compares the entire life cycle, from raw materials to energy use and end of life, to fully understand the impact and performance of both electronic media and paper. The facts may surprise you.”
Negative Carbon Footprint
In this post we will focus on sustainability. “One of the great things about paper is that its primary raw materials are renewable. The paper and forest products industry replenishes more than it takes and ensures the sustainability of our forests by planting 1.7 million trees every single day, more than three times what is harvested. And the U.S. Dept. of Energy has stated that the carbon sequestered on forested lands in 2006 was greater than the carbon released from harvesting wood over the same period.”
Is it recycled? Paper is biodegradable, recyclable, and reusable. Nearly 60% (57.4%) of paper used in the U.S. is recycled and more than 63 percent of fiber used to make paper products comes from recycled paper. Paper waste won’t kill you unless a skid falls on your head, but that isn’t true of electronics, according to earth 911, “Electronic waste accounts for 70 percent of the overall toxic waste currently found in landfills. In addition to valuable metals like aluminum, electronics often contain hazardous materials like mercury…in 2005 alone, almost two million tons of e-waste were landfilled. While toxic materials comprise only a small amount of this volume, it doesn’t take much lead or mercury to contaminate an area’s soil or water supply.” There is even a report that says the dust collecting on our computers can be harmful to our health (see CNET). Sources say 150 million PC’s are expected be discarded annually, with only approximately 3.6 percent recycled.
Is it sustainable? The great thing about paper is that its primary raw materials are renewable. In fact, as stated earlier, three trees are planted for every one harvested. We may be in more danger of being crowded out than we are of risking barren landscapes. To create a computer for example “typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals, including gold, silver, and palladium as well as the extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. (DTE brochure)” Plus computers are short lived. A five year old computer is about as productive as a paperweight, which is partially the reason that “electronics have become the fastest growing waste stream in the world. (DTE brochure).
I could go on, but there are massive amounts of information available to anyone who wants to research these matters further. International Paper in their brochure would refer you to the following resources: ipsustainability.com; iplifeoftheforest.com; abundantforests.com; epa.gov; fsc.org; iea.org; pefc.org and sfiprogram.org.
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