Why paper shouldn't be recycled.
There are many benefits to the environment from recycling, especially metals and plastics but the recycling of paper, I believe is actually detrimental to the environment. Paper is made from wood and the people of our planet have a voracious appetite for it. Over 300 million tonnes of paper are used every year. That's a lot of trees but if the trees are grown for paper and not taken from the wild, then it could be a good thing, that is if we stop recycling paper.
It's all to do with Carbon Dioxide or CO2 for short. Lot's of claims have been made about CO2 and it's link with global warming. Assuming this is true then removing CO2 from the atmosphere is beneficial to the environment. Now trees grow by taking in water and carbon dioxide and using the sun's energy, this is converted to, among other things, glucose. This sugar is then polymerised or “knitted” together to form long chains which is cellulose i.e. wood. So in effect, trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere and fix it as wood.
Paper is made by taking wood and basically mashing it into a pulp and reforming it into sheets. But the cellulose remains more or less intact holding on to it's carbon. This carbon will remain fixed until the paper is either burned or rots away. So why not recycle? Well the trouble starts when you start to reprocess the old paper into new paper. Lots of energy is needed to collect, sort and re-pulp the old paper which needs fuel (usually fossil fuel) and then there are various chemicals needed like bleach, because people seem to prefer nice white paper to it's natural colour, all of which require energy to produce. Ah, you may say but so does making paper from raw wood and this is true but if you use raw wood you are using wood that has fixed some carbon while it was growing whereas the recycled paper has only fixed carbon once but it has been processed twice, which actually increases CO2 production in the long run. The CO2 produced from using raw wood for paper is less than what has been locked away by the growing of the wood.
So what should be done with old paper if it is not recycled? Well to keep the carbon “locked” in the paper, the paper needs to be left as is. The best way to do this is to bury it and bury it deep to minimise any rotting of fungal growth that may produce CO2 by respiration. A normal landfill is no good as the paper will rot and release CO2 as it does. New trees should be planted to replace the used ones, fixing more CO2 from the atmosphere as they produce their wood. Why not just leave the forests as they are? Well studies show that an established forest is more or less in equilibrium i.e. the trees produce almost as much CO2 as they use up. A new fresh growing forest however uses up much more CO2 than it produces. So it is actually beneficial to the atmosphere to grow trees for paper and use them instead of recycling the old paper!
To summarise then, to decrease the net amount of CO2 production from paper manufacture:
Do not recycle or burn old paper but bury it deep underground to minimise rotting.
Use only fresh wood to make paper.
Plant forests specifically to be harvested for wood.
Paper is a versatile and valuable commodity and can be totally renewable if we make it and dispose of it properly.