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Paper is one of the most common materials encountered in daily life. The average American consumes over 700 pounds of the material each year from products like toilet paper, tissues, napkins, junk mail, greeting cards, printer paper, newspapers, lottery tickets, cereal boxes and more. Few people think about the effects these objects have on the environment, but paper has a significant impact on the planet’s health and future.

Each day, more than 200 square kilometers of forest disappear around the world due to deforestation. 35 percent of the harvested trees become paper. Cutting down forests to produce paper not only eliminates vital ecosystems, it also contributes to global warming. Half of the world’s carbon, a greenhouse gas, is stored in forests. When the forests are cut down, the carbon is released into the atmosphere where it contributes to climate change. The paper industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. If the use of office paper was reduced by just 10 percent, it would save 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Paper recycling is an important component to protecting the environment. Paper recycling reduces the emission of greenhouse gases because it avoids methane emissions and limits the energy required to produce future paper products. Recycling one ton of paper can cut greenhouse gases by one metric ton and can save 7,000 gallons of water, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space and enough energy to power an average home for half a year. In addition to these benefits, recycling one ton of paper can also save 17 mature trees. The United States Environmental Protection Agency maintains that paper recycling reduces water pollution by 35 percent and air pollution by 74 percent when compared to the impact of making virgin paper.

Paper recycling efforts are growing around the world. In the European Union, approximately 45.5 million tons of paper are recycled each year, representing about 54 percent of the region’s entire paper use. In the United States, about 53.5 million tons are recycled annually, corresponding to 53.4 percent of the country’s use. In many areas of the world, curbside programs and recyclable drop-off programs are growing, making it easier than ever to recycle paper waste.