Ever since paper was invented by the Chinese 2,000 years ago it has been part of a process of recycling. Paper was originally made from the pulverized fibers in rag cloth. Clothing and other pieces of woven materials were ground up into a mash, the resulting stew being pressed flat and put out to dry in the sun.
This method was learned by Muslim soldiers who captured a Chinese paper mill. It was transmitted to Europe within a few centuries via land invasions. This method of separating fibers from cloth was used when the first American paper mill was founded in Pennsylvania in 1690.
The changeover from cloth mash to tree pulp occurred in the New World in the 18th century, when the demand for paper outpaced the supply of rags. What ensued was an incredible mismanagement of resources: Deforestation of old growth forests, which had already been on the rise while arable farmland was being cleared, accelerated and vast amounts of fresh water and soil were contaminated by the bleaching process.
Despite the damages, even at that early time a significant portion of the paper created was made from recollected materials that were reverted back to pulp, rebleached and repressed. Over time this process has expanded and become cleaner, with smaller portions of the recycling being discarded. Today, even the sludge that is made up of ink and plastics is burned for fuel to create the next generation of paper.
Recently in the U.S., the Paper Industry Association Council reported that over half of the paper used each year is recollected and used to create new paper. By 2012 the goal is to recollect 60 percent.
Although paper recycling does not protect the trees in the Amazon (which is being cleared due to population pressures — the timber being used for building and firewood, not paper pulp), it does save vast amounts of other resources. (For information on what you can do to protect the Amazon and other forests, see www.nature.org/adopt, www.therainforestsite.com and www.saveamericasforests.org.)
Paper production affects resources upstream of the mill (removing resources from the area), on-site (energy and chemical consumption) and downstream (pollutants released during the process).
Recycling a ton of paper (rather than making a ton of virgin paper) saves 17 trees, 275 pounds of sulphur, 350 pounds of limestone, 9,000 pounds of steam, 60,000 gallons of water, 225 kilowatt hours and 3.3-6.7 cubic yards of landfill space.
These resources are saved again each time that ton of paper is reused, with the pulp being recyclable up to seven times before the fibers are too short to form paper. In addition, depending on the area, 33-50 percent of the mass placed into landfills is paper. If this refuse is removed, landfill capacities can be as much as doubled.
Another reason to keep paper out of landfills: Decomposing paper releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. In many larger landfills this methane is captured and transformed into a valuable source of bio-energy gas; however, in most areas this is not the case.
With this in mind, even if nothing else in your home or office is recycled, paper should be. Half the waste created at home and over 75 percent of the waste created at work is recyclable paper.
Green Carolina spotlight
As mentioned in a previous installment of Green Living, there is a building procedure gaining momentum in the U.S. called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED-certified buildings are built to exacting standards beginning with the site selected for the structure and continuing throughout the entire process of creating the foundation and assembling the configuration.
Every aspect of the building must meet or exceed LEED standards in order to carry the certification.
A minimum certification (Bronze) is given to LEED projects that attain 26-32 points. Silver is awarded to buildings with 33-38 points. Gold is awarded to buildings that earn 39-51 points and platinum is an honor bestowed upon constructions that achieve 52-69 points. See www.cement.org/buildings/green_leed.asp for more information.
Just in time for summer travelers in the region, it can be reported that right here in the Carolinas is a four-diamond luxury hotel that is LEED-Platinum certified.
The Proximity in Greensboro was designed to use 36 percent less energy and 30 percent less water than a comparable standard hotel of the same size with the same amenities. Many of the Proximity’s electrical features capture their own energy and recycle it into the building’s internal electrical grid. The first elevator in North America to do this is installed at the Proximity.
Aside from using huge, beautiful windows to light the rooms and covering the entire roof with solar panels to provide hot water, the accommodation also reuses most of its paper products in innovative ways (making coasters for drinks out of packing materials, etc).
Outside there are beautiful green spaces with bike and walking trails. The stream that pre-existed the site’s construction has been restored. It is protected from erosion and other negative factors by recycling the 376 tons of boulders and nearly 20 logs from the site itself to create a floodplain bench.
Also, the property has been landscaped with local plants, which do not tend to require extra water and maintenance. Other debris from the site was recycled into the building itself, diverting well over 1,500 tons of waste from landfills.
Jack Kirven holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA and a national certification in personal fitness training through NASM.
— Q-Notes’ “Health and Wellness” column rotates between physical fitness, spirituality, green living and medical wellness.