The rush to be environmentally friendly has caused many to suspend their healthy skepticism of the accepted green techniques.
Common environmental lore dictates that recycling paper is beneficial to our environment. Is this, in fact, the case?
The recent UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland, produced some information that seemed to indicate that what we assume to be harmful to the environment may be just the opposite.
see: The article
This got me thinking about recycling, the goodness of it, and the possible flaws as well.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not advocating everyone cease recycling. We need to keep as much stuff out of landfills as possible, or at least be organized enough with our waste so as to completely eliminate it. There should really be no need for landfill sites. Raw materials, like metals and plastics, should be reused. Current landfills are the highest grade mining deposits of raw materials on the planet. Why mining companies aren't actively vying for those pure ores is a mystery, since:
- a.) we know where they are.
- b.) There's already a road to get there.
- c.) processing it can only be an improvement to the environment.
I live in a region that is forest rich. Forest commodities are the lifeblood of almost every community here. Global warming, however, is changing that. Insects, which were once killed by long cold winters, are now eating their way through the forests. The rate of deforestation due to climate change has accelerated far beyond anything that logging could ever accomplish. In fact, most of those trees need to be removed, to make way for species that are less affected by insects. If logging doesn't remove the diseased trees, a lightning strike and massive fire most certainly will. Logging these dying trees is mostly a band-aid solution, since there is no real market for all that wood. Some of it is converted into secondary products, the rest is chipped and burned for electricity.
Producing energy from wood is a good thing. Wood is a unity fuel. Burning wood can never produce more carbon dioxide than it sucks from the air while the tree grows.
In 1995 the world produced over 266,000,000,000 metric tonnes of pulp and paper. Most of this was produced from trees. Trees are not the most efficient producer of fiber. Trees are very slow growing and textile crops like flax and hemp have been shown to produce better yields per area of land used.
My bone of contention is with paper recycling.
In the context of global climate change we have been stymied for want of methods to reduce greenhouse gases;mainly carbon dioxide. Paper is a product that actually contains carbon captured from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. In light of recent research into biochar , would it not make more sense not to recycle paper?
By focusing our efforts on producing pulp from plants other than trees, and treating and landfilling waste paper, we could mitigate huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the Earths atmosphere each year.
Instead of recycling paper we should:
Concentrate efforts on only using paper that is not made from wood pulp.
Don't burn paper in incinerators. Treat waste paper with H2SO4 (sulphuric acid).
Recover the H2SO4 and use it again.It's just a catalyst.
Bury the paper or use it for biochar on our fields as a fertilizer. Burying it will make it disappear forever. Using as fertilizer will make it disappear for several hundred (possibly thousand) years.
By treating waste paper with sulphuric acid, the paper becomes mostly carbon as water is catalyzed away.
By burying the treated paper the carbon could be locked away permanently.
We would essentially be performing the same process that makes coal at a much higher speed than geology could do it.
What are the benefits of this?
The reduction in transport of recycled paper from the homes of millions of, albeit well meaning, householders would substantially reduce carbon emissions produced by hauling the same paper as many as 5 times during the process. If householders generated their own biochar (paper carbon) and put that at the curb, as much as 60 percent of the fuel used to haul the waste paper could be eliminated; cellulose (paper) being only 40 percent carbon.
Plants are the Earths most efficient mechanisms for sequestering atmospheric carbon. We should be utilizing this mechanism as much as possible to halt and reverse global climate change. The techniques we use, and financially support, to 'save' the planet need to be critically assessed. We need to do this sooner rather than later.
My suggestion is that householders should burn their household paper in a closed container and only send the left over carbon to the dump.