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Over many years of working in the pulp and paper industry I was always fascinated with people’s pre-occupation with the notion that paper recycling saves trees, is environmentally friendly, and is part of the answer to saving our world which is in decline due to man-made “global warming,” industrialization, and a general lack of focus on recycling.
No way am I opposed to recycling! I’ve made much of my living selling machinery that served both the recycling and virgin pulp-making industries the world over. But I have not been able to come across any balanced views disposing of some of the myths that are etched into most people’s minds.
And what are those myths? — That recycling is a must, that saving trees is supremely important, and that recycling waste paper is central to saving our world.
These ideas all sound good, especially to the environmentalist, but the “inconvenient truth” is very different.
I joined the world of the pulp and paper industry in 1966 as a young engineer working for a Montreal company that produced pulping machinery. Having spent the next 35 years for that company and growing in my career from engineer to CEO (of Hymac Ltée of Montreal) gives me a certain amount of credibility although I do not claim infallibility.
Here are some facts I learned.
First of all, it is a complete myth that trees should not be cut down to produce pulp to make paper. The fact is that during the time that I served this industry, the companies that make pulp and paper planted more trees than they cut down — and this holds true in pretty well all real pulp producing regions of the world — so there is no legitimate way to blame the industry for destroying the environment by cutting down trees.
Secondly, trees do not live forever. They need to be rejuvenated, cut down and replanted because their capacity to produce oxygen diminishes with age, depending on the tree type.
Trees in general absorb carbon dioxide (and other pollutants) from the atmosphere and through photosynthesis produce pure oxygen. What happens is that the carbon dioxide is absorbed through the leaves; the carbon element from the carbon dioxide is stored in the tree roots and trunk, while the oxygen element is released back to the atmosphere. It is a fact that without trees and vegetation we would not have clean air to breathe. We would all die! But that does not mean that all trees do the same job. The paper industry mostly (although not exclusively) uses pine and spruce trees to make virgin pulp. These are the trees that have the least ability to maximize the effect of photosynthesis.