Today marks Earth Day, an annual event to raise awareness and support for environmental protection and preservation. With an estimated one billion participants, Earth Day serves as an opportunity for people worldwide to celebrate and safeguard the natural beauty of our planet.
This year’s theme, ‘Invest in Our Future’, is a call to action to individuals, businesses and governments to invest in environmentally sustainable technologies and practices that will assist in curbing climate change. This is particularly important given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has urged that without ‘immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors’ limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach, vastly increasing the risk of irreversible change and damage to the climate.
The paper and print industries have made notable efforts to reduce their environmental footprint, and to stand tall in environmental merit. Let’s explore some of these:
Energy Conservation and Efficiency
The industry has invested significantly in energy-efficient technologies and practices. Many paper mills and printers have upgraded their equipment, use more efficient motors and lighting, and have invested in solar paneling. Many mills have implemented co-generation systems to increase the efficiency of the energy used in paper production. These co-generation systems are mainly based on steam turbines, and produce heat and electricity simultaneously, promoting energy sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. Visy Paper, Australia’s largest integrated paper and pulp mill use renewable organic materials known as ‘bio-masses’ to operate their co-generation systems and produce their paper, which reduces their reliance on fossil fuels. The most commonly used source of biomass is ‘black liquor’ a by-product of pulp. The co-generation systems allow Visy to redirect waste from landfill, which then decomposes and creates greenhouse gases, and avoid what they estimate as approximately 34,800 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. And by using the biomasses as opposed to natural gas, the co-generation systems save approximately 9,800 tonnes of CO2 emissions yearly.
Many paper mills have set targets to reduce their water consumption and are continuously working to improve their processes to meet these targets. This includes: the use of water recycling systems such as rainwater harvesting or wastewater treatment, and reducing the amount of fresh water needed in production. The use of water-less printing plate technology has helped the print industry reduce its water consumption, such as South Australian based printer Advance Press who has managed to reduce its annual water consumption by 31,000 litres.
Certified and Sustainably Managed Forests
Paper in Australia is made from certified wood, meaning it is sourced from responsibly managed forests. These certifications ensure the legality and environmental merit of pulp products, and organisations like Responsible Wood and the PEFC help promote responsible forest management and harvesting around the world. Australia has the third largest area of certified forest in the world, with more than 16 million hectares of forest certified by Responsible Wood, making up over 90% of the commercial forests in the country.
Reforestation, which involves the replanting of harvested trees, has been shown to increase carbon stocks. Many paper companies have implemented reforestation programs to maintain healthy forests, protect and enhance the environment, support biodiversity, and ensure a sustainable supply of pulp fibre for the industry. This is incredibly beneficial, with the European Environment Agency stating that, “Over one year a mature tree will remove 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
Approximately 83.4% of wood in Australia is harvested from planted forests, 76% of which are privately owned tree farms planted mainly for commercial use. Planted forests reduce the pressure and the need to clear natural forests. In Australia deforestation is primarily due to urbanisation, mixed purpose agriculture and mining. Planted forests also help promote the growth of diverse tree species, which then provide habitat, shelter and food for animal life.
The paper and print industry in Australia and New Zealand has implemented extensive recycling programs, where paper waste is collected and recycled into new paper products. These programs help reduce waste sent to landfills, conserve natural resources and minimise the industry’s environmental footprint. Paper itself is also highly recyclable, with pulp fibres able to be reused up to 7 times. In Australia, the recovery rate is 78% and 58% in New Zealand.
As we approach Earth Day and reflect on the urgent need for environmental preservation, it is important to recognise the positive steps taken by the paper and print industry to invest in a sustainable future. The industry is leading the way in sustainability by using sustainable materials, implementing energy-efficient technologies, promoting reforestation and extensive recycling programs.
If you are interested in doing your part and supporting the multitude of Earth Day campaigns and causes, check out the range of events being held worldwide. You can find more information or locate an event in your area by visiting: www.earthday.org
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022
- Visy, 2022
- VoPP Mag, 2022
- Responsible Wood, 2022
- Environmental Protection Agency, 2012
- CEPI, 2018
- Two Sides, 2020