Are we using more or less paper each year?

You might think that in the days of the paperless society we ought to be using less paper each year, with fewer and fewer trees being cut down for paper usage.

After all surely most of the time we communicate by email and text, bank on line and don’t even use the fax any more.

OK we use paper at Christmas, what with Christmas cards sent through the post and the use of wrapping paper, but the rest of the time we use very little compared with the past. 

A lot of advertising that used to go out via the post now goes by email, banking is on line, and newspaper and magazine readership is right down (since so many people read papers on line).

And yet global paper consumption since 1980 has gone up by almost half.

The last time I wrote about this I mentioned that Belgium was a very heavy user of paper per person, but this figure is not caused by any insatiable desire by Belgium people for paper – rather it is that this is a by-lingual country where the French speaking part don’t speak Flemish (and Flemish is not taught in schools in the French speaking part), and schools in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium do not teach French in schools. So a lot of documents are publishing in both languages. 

And that is before we even get to the issue of the amount of paper used by the EU, which publishes all its proposals, reports and laws in all of its official languages. (Actually I noticed that the other day the Daily Mail said that the number of languages in the EU is uncountable, but in fact the EU has 24 official languages, of which the most widely spoken mother tongue is German.)

After Belgium we find Finland is the second largest consumer of paper per person, but this is largely because being the major paper production centre in the EU it does  convert a lot of its home developed paper into packaging products which it exports, along with its paper. 

The top next three highest users worldwide are Germany, Japan and Sweden. After them we have (on a paper use per person basis), the U.S, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands, South Korea, Canada and at number 11 in the paper per person charts we find the UK.  We each use the equivalent of 4.48 trees per person per year.  

We are followed by France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and China. China uses only 1.81 trees per person per year. At the other extreme Azerbaijan is the most tree-friendly nation, with only 0.16 trees per person being used each year.

So does this matter? Are we destroying the planet through destroying the trees?

Actually not at all.  Although some people like to equate these figures with the rain forests and their destruction, paper is not made from trees in rain forests. The biggest source of our paper are the trees of Finland, therefore the EU is utterly self-sufficient in paper production.

Not surprisingly, given the environmental concerns of the EU, the EU actually plants more trees than it cuts down for paper use, so our contribution to the environment is positive despite the use of paper increasing.

But one interesting side effect of all this is the need for storage facilities for paper. We use more paper so we need to store more paper.  And that’s why Admiral Document Storage exists.

The only losers in all this are the people who firmly predicted the paperless society. It didn’t happen, and in fact the reverse is happening and such companies have had to reverse all their propaganda. 

The good news is that we have found ways through planting more trees and extra recycling of living with our insatiable demand for paper.