USHER GRINER: The fallacy behind the paperless movement
Recently it has become fashionable to disparage the use of paper in favor of electronic devices and transmittals. Like a lot of fashions, this makes no sense.
The premise of anti-paper campaigns is that paper is bad for the environment and unnecessarily consumes vital natural resources. In reality, using paper and other forest products provides environmental benefits that electronics cannot match. Paper comes from trees, which are a renewable resource. When trees are cut down to make paper, more are planted and grown to take their place. Through this cycle, working forests provide habitat for wildlife; recharge areas for clean water; and create a natural process for removing carbon from the air.
The electronic alternatives being pushed to replace paper are not as environmentally friendly as their supporters would have you believe. Science of the Total Environment, an international research journal, estimates that discarded devices create approximately 50 million tons of electronic waste each year. These products contain a variety of non-renewable materials that are not only harmful to the environment but also to the people living in the areas where they are dumped.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that only eight percent of mobile devices are recycled. The rate for recycling computers is 38 percent. The rate for recycling paper? More than 63 percent.
Recycled paper fills a variety of needs. Among others things, it is used to make dollar bills. This is especially appropriate considering the forest industry’s $14.7 billion impact to our state’s economy. In addition to the many environmental benefits, working forests also provide jobs to 90,000 Floridians.
The connection between the environmental benefits and the economic impact cannot be emphasized enough. Sustainable forests are not free; proper land management costs money. Our government cannot afford to own or maintain all the forestland that is needed for environmental purposes or public use.
Without the forest industry, private landowners cannot afford to, either.
The market for forest products is a key element in the ability to maintain forestlands. Without a demand for wood from mills and other forest product users, working forests would have to be converted to more profitable crops or to neighborhoods. As Florida becomes more and more urbanized, the pressure to grow houses instead of trees continues to intensify.
Like all of us, forests must work if they are going to survive. By buying and using paper and other forest products, consumers help maintain the health and sustainability of working forests. In turn, working forests help maintain a healthy environment and strengthen the economy.
Anti-paper campaigns might be trendy right now, but the truth is that working forests were “green” long before green was in fashion.
Lynetta Usher Griner is the president of the Florida Forestry Association, a statewide membership association that promotes the responsible and sustainable use of Florida’s forest resources.