Substituting one-time paper products for plastic not the solution

The USA alone consumes 68 million trees (35 per cent of total) per annum for paper alone.

letters

Substituting one-time paper products for plastic not the solution

This is a comment on your “Our View” of Oct. 15, 2020, expressing support for banning single use plastics.

Unfortunately anything to do with the environment is complicated and always multi-faceted. Banning single use plastic is one such issue. The anti-plastic movement has become international and many are jumping on the bandwagon without considering all the facts.

Plastic is popular, cheap and convenient, but those are not the only reasons for using it, as will be shown. Clearly substitution of the plastic will have to be found and superficially wood products in the form of paper are an obvious choice, but the incorrect choice.

Firstly, let us not forget that plastic bags are not necessarily one time use. Many people re-use them for garbage disposal, picking up dog poop, and for storage. One study in Quebec showed 77 per cent of plastic grocery bags are re-used. Another study in California showed an increase of an extra 5,400,000 kg per annum of trash bags when plastic grocery bags were removed. Without them consumers go out and buy heavier, more durable plastic bags that have to be manufactured, transported, and still ultimately disposed of in landfills.

However, the main point is that from an environmental perspective, substituting the utilization of one time use plastic products with one time use paper products is the wrong decision for the environment. The following facts illustrate why.

The making of paper consumes about 500 million terajoules of energy per annum and it increases at 100 units per second. It produces about 3.5 trillion tonnes of CO2 per annum, going up at 500 per second. That leads to about 600 billion tonnes of ice melting per annum. Sadly recycling paper leaves a larger carbon footprint than making new paper because of the chemicals and the mechanical processes involved. It consumes more energy and energy consumption means pollution. It can only be recycled a limited amount of times causing recyclers to err on the side of safety.

The respected Think Green News estimates that in North America we each consume 318 kg (700 pounds) of paper per annum. Five per cent of the world’s population uses 38 per cent of the paper. We are paper gluttons! Worse, up to 26 per cent of paper ends up in landfills. The manufacture of paper has increased 400 per cent in the last 20 years and the rate is increasing.

The USA alone consumes 68 million trees (35 per cent of total) per annum for paper alone. Worldwide paper production consumes 60 per cent of the 480 million cubic meters (17 billion cu ft) of the wood cut. This equates to 420 million tonnes of paper and cardboard and it is estimated this will double by 2030. One kilogram of paper requires two to three times the weight of trees! Paper production is the third largest polluter of air, water and land. It releases 100 million kg of toxic pollution per annum in North America alone.

The manufacture of paper requires 10 litres of water per single A4 sheet of paper. The pulp and paper industry is the highest consumer of water in the west. Here in the Cowichan Valley we know well the connection between the industry and our water source. This is not a judgement on Crofton which is a valued local business. Each job in a primary industry produces between three to seven downstream jobs.

We are cutting or burning nearly 23 million ha (58 million acres) of forests per annum, which is equivalent to 40 football fields per minute. The deforestation rate increases by one hectare per second. The loss of forests is already approaching 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emission. Deforestation consumes much energy and destroys water sources and habitats, and produces air pollution and waste disposal problems. Trees are one way that nature counters humans intent on destroying the planet. We need to stop cutting any more trees than we have to. We need to stop exporting raw logs and we must plant more trees, sooner.

Of course one of the largest users of paper is the common everyday flyer. Hats off to Superstore who are moving to digital flyers only. Flyers are one of the key elements that keep local newspapers viable. Every week I get a few pages of news and a large volume of flyers which I do not want. I have no choice, I have to accept this huge waste if I want a newspaper. Something wrong with this picture!

Each of Canada’s 14 million households receives about 1,200 flyers per year. In 2010 16 billion flyers were delivered. There are no estimates of how many ended up in landfills because of the inks used or them having been soiled. Promoters of flyers say 75 per cent of people read their flyers and an additional 50 per cent read catalogues. However more critical surveys show most people only browse a few pages, with the exception of grocery flyers. Ten per cent of people want no flyers at all and 67 per cent say they want them once per week. Less than ten per cent indicate they take flyers into consideration when purchasing non grocery items.

Developed society laments cutting old growth forests and the burning of rain forests. The real issue is people are ignorant of how gluttonous we are and the environment cannot stand the substitution of wood for plastic. We seriously need to improve recycling (for both products, in fact everything) and be prepared to pay for it if we value the earth.

Public education is key. It is gut wrenching to see plastic products killing sea life and we correctly worry about microplastics. However, there is some good news. Recently scientists have found bacteria that break down plastics seven times faster. Large scale floating machines now are removing tonnes of plastic from the oceans. Burger King and Tim Hortons are starting to experiment with recyclable containers, if only people will use them. We keep worrying about landfills but Canada is blessed with lots of real estate but we just need to be prepared to pay more for haulage.

In summary, environmental issues are very complicated. Let us not be too quick to jump on bandwagons and make choices that make matters worse for the overall environment. Substituting the use of one time paper products for one time plastic products is such a case.

Dick Zandee

Duncan

Letters

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Neurologist and medical educator Dr. Alexandre Henri-Bhargava, seen here speaking at the 2020 Breakfast to Remember in Victoria, will delve into the latest in dementia research during an interactive research event exclusively for attendees of this year’s virtual Breakfast. Access to the March 10 research event is included with the purchase of a Breakfast to Remember ticket. (Kevin Light Photography)
Blast off with Chris Hadfield at Alzheimer Society’s Breakfast to Remember in March

The Society hopes people in all corners of the province will make the most of this opportunity

The City of Duncan will implement a new pilot project targeting vandalism this spring. (File photo)
Duncan initiates pilot project to deal with graffiti

Project based on a successful one in Port Alberni

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

It’s been almost a year since the last public performance inside the Chemainus Theatre. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Lead donors pledge $60,000 in matching campaign at the Chemainus Theatre

Perrys, Hiltons and Duncan Iron Works help to Bridge the Gap during COVID shutdown

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A discarded blue surgical mask is shown hanging in a bush in Montreal, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
B.C. RMT suspended for not wearing a mask after confirmed by undercover clients

College of Massage Therapists has 5 open files, said suspension necessary to protect public

Victoria Police Department vehicles outside the headquarters building. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police investigating sudden death in Beacon Hill Park

Police, paramedics responded to a report of an unresponsive person early Wednesday

Dozens of reports of sexualized violence against a former employee of downtown Victoria restaurant Chuck’s Burger Bar were posted online in January. A police investigation is ongoing. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Chuck’s Burger Bar in Victoria closes doors after sexual assault allegations

Victoria police investigating reports of sexual misconduct, assault by former restaurant employee

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Missing woman’s remains recovered after Vancouver Island boat fire

Remains of a 60-year-old woman recovered after Feb. 27 boat fire took her life

Most Read