By Mark Pitts, Executive Director, Printing-Writing, Pulp and Tissue, American Forest & Paper Association
Oct. 30, 2023 - Given the ubiquitous nature of digital devices and digital service promotion, some businesses may be tempted to transition to paperless record keeping systems based on preconceived notions that going digital is somehow more sustainable. That assumption could not be further from the truth.
Paper continues to play a significant role in the digital era, especially when it comes to sustainability, accessibility, and security for businesses.
Businesses must recognize the enduring value and broad benefits of paper documents. Even with advancements in electronic files, paper remains a critical component for organizations of all types.
First, let's address the sustainability of paper. Trees are one of our most abundant renewable resources in America, and a healthy paper industry is critical to maintaining healthy forests.
More than a billion trees are planted in the U.S. each year, and almost all the wood used to produce paper products is sourced from private, sustainably managed forests. Sustainable practices are the root of the paper industry, and we continue to advance sustainability through investment and innovation.
Since 2011, members of the American Forest and Paper Association have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 24% from the 2005 baseline, and our goal is to reduce these emissions by 50% by 2030.
Better yet, paper is one of the United States' most recycled materials. Nearly 68% of paper was recycled in 2022. Those recycled fibers go on to become something new, like printing and writing papers, demonstrating our industry's inherent circularity.
Underpinning this circular economy is a robust and accessible recycling system used by millions of Americans. Our industry plays a key role too, with nearly $7 billion in investments, completed or announced (2019-2025), that will use more than 9 million tons of recycled fiber.
However, this success could be disrupted by mandates, like recycled content minimums or extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies, that could upend the dynamics of our circular value chain, and the voluntary industry investments powering paper's achievements.
In addition to being produced from a renewable, highly recycled resource, paper offers many advantages over digital documents.
Paper does not depend on additional technology for access and use, and physical documents provide a tangible record. Digital storage also carries with it vulnerabilities, including cybersecurity attacks and data breaches.
Paper also plays an essential role in helping bridge the digital divide for the Americans who don't use or have access to broadband internet and would otherwise be excluded under "digital-only" policies.
Thankfully, businesses looking to reduce their environmental impact don't have to choose between paper or digital. Companies can rest assured that paper is a sustainable, highly recyclable product, and provides a valuable document solution for today and into the future.
The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recycle resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry's sustainability initiative — Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future.
The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states.
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