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Recycled Paper Would Save 900 Megatons of Carbon by 2050

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Recycled paper ranks #70 on Drawdown’s list of climate solutions. By 2050, recycled paper could eliminate 900,000 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions at an initial cost of US$573.5 billion, with eventual savings that are too indefinite to calculate.

Paper is cheap, it’s everywhere, and it has a multitude of uses. In fact, Drawdown states that paper use is increasing worldwide, especially for packaging. While half of unused paper is tossed, the other half is recovered and reused. In places like northern Europe, the recovery rate for paper is as high as 75%. But failing to recycle paper can have major environmental consequences, Drawdown notes, and the emissions produced by the paper industry are higher than aviation.

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Recycling paper cuts emissions by eliminating many of the steps in the production process that release greenhouse gases and produce other environmental impacts. Recycling uses less water, requires less logging, creates more jobs, and creates 70% fewer emissions than virgin fibre.

“It makes paper’s journey circular, rather than a straight line from logging to landfill,” Drawdown states. Instead of becoming waste, recycled paper can be turned into a variety of different, useful products.

Recycling has its limits, since the quality of the paper declines each time it is reprocessed. Drawdown also concedes that, for paper recycling to grow, consumer demand will have to increase and costs will have to fall.

But the environmental payoff is significant. “Recycled paper generates just 1% of the climate impacts virgin paper creates. Moreover, it consumes a quarter of the amount of water required for the same quantity of product, and requires 20 to 50% less energy for pulping and papermaking.”