Science Made Simple: Is Using Recycled Paper Really That Important?

My name is Ryan and I love science. Join me as I try to make tough science a little less confusing.

Follow along as I research the issues, untangle the mess, and figure out what you really need to know to help animals and the environment.


Today’s Topic: Is Using Recycled Paper Really That Important?

Short Version: Trees are being cut down at an alarming rate in order to make all the different types of paper we use every day. From printer paper to toilet paper, you can help protect forests and the animals that live in them by recycling your paper and buying paper made from recycled content!
Confusing Science: “One of the most produced sanitary papers is toilet paper. The most important raw material is pulp, originates either from primary (virgin) cellulosic fibers or recovered fibers” (Vlase, 2013).


What That Really Means: It shouldn’t surprise you that people want/need toilet paper. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, it’s pretty much recession proof and grocery stores usually devote an entire aisle to it. Wood pulp is needed to make toilet paper, and lots of trees have to be cut down as part of the production process. As we’ve talked about in previous Science Made Simple posts, anytime trees are cut down, we reduce the habitat available to animals that rely on these forests for survival.

Confusing Science: “Between 2010 and 2030, the global demand for timber products is expected to rise by 70 % (FAO 2009). In this time period, the global demand for wood-based panels will increase from 280 to 500 million tons per annum, while the production of paper and paperboard will grow from 400 to 700 million tons annually” (Obidzinksi, 2012).

What That Really Means: The amount of paper we use for writing, printing, toilet paper, etc. is astronomical. I tried really hard to find a way to put the numbers above into perspective. The picture below is a United States Navy Ford-Class aircraft carrier. The Navy specifications on this type of aircraft carrier list a weight of approximately 100,000 tons.

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier [Media]. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from
Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier [Media]. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from
So if that ship weighs 100,000 tons, you would need FOUR THOUSAND of those ships to equal the weight of the paper currently made each year! It’s nearly impossible to think about that amount of paper.

Confusing Science: “The logging that goes toward disposable paper products is especially frustrating given how much paper continues to be wasted. Each year, US consumers dump about 35 to 40 percent of all the paper they use into dumps and landfills. According to University of Colorado’s Environmental Center, “in this decade Americans will throw away over 4.5 million tons of office paper and nearly 10 million tons of newspaper … almost all of which could be recycled” (Robbins, 2010).

wipeWhat That Really Means: In short, we are throwing away far too much paper that could be made into other products. Recycling used office paper or newspapers can reduce the number of trees needed to meet our paper demands and preserve valuable wildlife habitat.

What YOU Can Do?: Fortunately, there are lots of companies that use recycled paper in their products. You can protect forests and the animals that live in them by recycling your paper and buying paper products that are made from recycled content. Here at the  Houston Zoo, we only use toilet paper made from recycled paper, and you can help animals by doing the same!

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more as I try to make science easier to understand. Never stop learning,

 Have a topic you’d like me to explore? Post it in the comments!

Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2009) State of the world’s forests 2009. FAO, Rome

Obidzinski, K., & Dermawan, A. (2012). Pulp industry and environment in Indonesia: is there sustainable future?. Regional Environmental Change, 12(4), 961-966.

Robbins, N. (2010). NOT A SQUARE TO SPARE. Earth Island Journal, 25(3), 57-60.

Vlase, R., Viorel, I., & Gavrilescu, D. (2013). RESOURCE CONSERVATION IN SANITARY PAPER MANUFACTURING. Environmental Engineering & Management Journal (EEMJ), 12(4), 757-762.

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