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Tree > pulp > paper > forest: the sustainable paper making process explained

Anyone with a degree of environmental consciousness wouldn’t want to see a single tree destroyed unnecessarily. Deforestation is a major threat to our world, destroying valuable habitats and endangering the planet’s most vulnerable wildlife, polluting our atmosphere and potentially robbing us of naturally occurring chemical compounds that could form the basis of future medical treatments. However, wood and wood pulp continues to be a valuable commodity in all kinds of industries. Is it possible to use this natural resource in a responsible, sustainable way?

How paper is made

The basic principles of paper manufacture were developed by the Chinese almost two millennia ago, and they remain largely unchanged today. In modern paper manufacturing, a single tree can produce 16.67 reams of copy paper.


During the paper making process raw timber is cut into logs, debarked and chipped into pieces of approximately one inch in size. These chips are passed into a ‘digester’, where they’re pressure cooked with a mixture of water and chemicals to form a pulp. This pulp is then washed and refined (and in some cases bleached, dyed or coated) before being applied to a moving wire screen. The pulp is dried and compressed beneath heavy rollers to form a smooth sheet or ‘web’. The web is rolled a second time by a set of heated dryer rollers before going through a number of important quality control procedures, and finally, being wound into large rolls for transportation.


The sustainable paper making process

Efforts to ensure sustainability are made at various stages throughout the paper making process. Recycling plays a major role. In the US in 2011, 66.8% of all paper consumed nationwide was recycled, and similar figures are being achieved throughout the developed world. Recycling features at other stages of the paper manufacturing process, too. Waste water used for washing and rinsing is itself cleaned before being recycled or released, while fibre particles and waste chemicals are burned to provide additional power in sustainable paper mills. Energy and resources are preserved whether possible throughout the paper making process.


While recycling is hugely important, perhaps the greatest efforts to ensure sustainable paper manufacture involve the use of sustainably sourced timber. Most sustainable logging operations plant far more trees than they cut down. For example, in Europe – where 94% of PMG’s paper is sourced – forest cover is increasing by an area four times the size of London every year. Clearly, this is a renewable, sustainable resource. Sustainable logging isn’t just about planting trees, though. Each forest must be surveyed to determine its health, the resources available and the wildlife that depends on it. Trees are harvested depending on their age and where they stand in the forest, helping to promote new growth and encourage biodiversity. Sustainable forestry has to balance the health of the forest with the natural resources it can provide.


Paper use and environmental sustainability are not incompatible. Here at PMG we’re dedicated to sustainability, and aim to help our clients develop a more positive, environmentally conscious relationship with print while reducing expenses and improving print effectiveness. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help.

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