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US: Virtual rubbish bin
US paper consumption has more than tripled since 1960, with the typical American now using 347 kilograms of paper every year – more than 50 times the amount the average African uses.
The industrialised world’s paper habit is usually associated with the trees the pulp industry consumes. But concerns also include the chlorine based chemicals often used to bleach paper, to the space it takes up in landfills and the greenhouse gases released if it is incinerated.
Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. The fibres break down each time it is recycled – which can be done about five times. Today’s crisp correspondence reappears as, for example, newsprint, then toilet paper. So even if all paper was recycled, new trees would still be needed, although each one would go further.
But growth in recycling will not continue unless it is matched by an increase in demand for recycled paper products. Manufacturers say they still face a marketing battle against consumer perceptions that recycled products are of lower quality than their virgin paper equivalents. They are also experimenting with other uses for recycled paper, such as thermal insulation and animal bedding.
Ultimately, though, the environmental impact of paper consumption could be reduced fastest simply by cutting down on, for example, the 19.5 million mail order catalogues the US gets through every year.
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