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March 27, 2009

Report Challenges Claim of Carbon Neutral Paper Products
    by Robert Kropp

Environmental Paper Network recommends that paper industry focus on the production of low carbon paper products by recycling and other gains in efficiency. -- Claims by the paper industry that its products are carbon neutral should be dismissed, according to a report published by the Environmental Paper Network, due to the very large emissions of greenhouse gases associated with paper production and disposal.

SRI Mutual Funds GuideIn its report entitled Carbon Neutral Paper: Fact or Fiction?, the Environmental Paper Network, a group of environmental organizations supporting social and environmental sustainability in the pulp and paper industry, argues that the paper industry remains one of the highest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG).

According to the report, the position that biomass fuel from forests is carbon neutral is not tenable. Harvesting forests reduces carbon storage for long periods of time, and clear cut areas following the harvest of trees for paper can emit carbon for up to 20 years. In addition, higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere result from the burning of forests and consumer patterns of paper consumption.

Another area of concern raised in the report is the amount of paper that makes its way to landfills and incinerators. In 2006, the US consumed nearly 100 million tons of paper products, and sent 41.2 million tons to landfills and incinerators in the same year. The decomposition of paper in landfills releases emissions, including methane, a major contributor to global climate change. Incinerators release toxic emissions and generate toxic ash that itself must be land filled.

Instead of making claims of carbon neutrality, the report contends, the paper industry should seek to make low carbon paper that that requires minimum GHG emissions to produce. Recent studies show a range in emissions from paper production, from 4.25 metric tons of emissions in carbon dioxide equivalent per ton of product for 100% virgin paper to just over 0.25 metric tons for 100% recycled paper.

The Environmental Paper Network recommends that "paper producers aim to produce low carbon products by adopting the most efficient practices, investing in renewable energy technologies, diverting methane from landfills for biogas and maximizing the use of recycled content."

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