I know… the lyrics are different. It’s an attempt to take a comical statement and apply an alternate meaning. See, I didn’t sleep through all of my college literary courses.

So here’s the point. I’m tired of everyone complaining about killing trees when they print hard copies of something. No one whines when they go into a library or book store or pick up their Entertainment Weekly. I was reading a literary agent’s blog recently and she made a passing comment on modern historians’ concern over the lack of physical letters written between people. In the past, these provided great insight into the personal lives and inside stories of historic events. With the advent of email, it’s just too easy for people to simply delete these correspondents. And before you say it, these people aren’t necessarily blogging. Further, don’t forget that jobs in the timber industry, while significantly declining over the past several decades due to increased automation, environmentalist pressures and foreign competition (damn those canucks), are still US jobs that people depend on. They aren’t high paying and regularly labeled some of the worst jobs, but they are still jobs critical some a subset of our society.

Ok, ok… we can debate this, but that’s not really my point. The recent comment was followed by the rhetorical question: how many trees are killed to make one piece of paper? The question itself is a bit absurd in it’s implications, but it made me wonder how many pieces of paper ARE made from a single tree.

A quick Google found an article (that appears an accurate summary) from an organization called “TAPPI – The Leading Technical Association for the Worldwide Pulp, Paper and Converting Industry“. Granted, I’m sure they are biased, but the data seems right:

…let’s assume that the following paper products have been produced using 100 percent hardwood.
A cord of wood is approximately 8 feet wide, 4 feet deep, and 4 feet high. A cord of air-dried, dense
hardwood (oak, hickory, etc.) weighs roughly 2 tons, about 15-20 percent of which is water.
It has been estimated that one cord of this wood will yield one of these approximate quantities
of products:
• 1,000-2,000 pounds of paper (depending on the process)
• 942 100-page, hard-cover books
• 61,370 No. 10 business envelopes
• 4,384,000 commemorative-sized postage stamps
• 460,000 personal checks
• 1,200 copies of National Geographic
• 2,700 copies of an average daily newspaper

Source: A Tree for Each American, American Forest & Paper
Association, Washington, DC

Ok, that’s a lot of paper. I don’t know how many pieces of paper are in a pound, but I’m guessing 1-2,000 pounds of paper is a lot. But I know that’s now how paper is made. When I was a kid, I spent summers with my grandparents. My grandfather was a logger (still is, really, in his 70’s) in the Iron Range area of Minnesota. He’d hall loads to the paper mill in Grand Rapids. The process is much more efficient than those stats indicate. The same article provides a decent summary. Paper is really made of wood fiber. Yeah.. duh. Well, not so duh as some of the high quality paper (think resume paper) is made from a different mix of raw materials. The kind of paper I’m talking about is your run of the mill printer paper.

About 1/3 of the raw materials going into the wood fiber is actually excess scrap left over from lumber mills and the logging process. They cut up logs for lumber but there is a lot of waste materials in the form of branches, strips of wood/bark when they square off the logs, etc. That’s chopped up into pulp.

Another third of the paper comes from recycled paper.

Only the last 1/3 comes from whole trees. These are trees smaller than 8 inches in diameter or otherwise not deemed good enough for lumber. Many of these trees come from efforts to thin out forests. Keep in mind that we really don’t like forest fires. Well, in nature, they aren’t that bad. Some trees only drop their seeds after a fire (too lazy to google, but I saw it on PBS <g>). The fires help clear out the scrub or older trees and make room for new growth. Absent fires, enter loggers.

Now before you freak out about deforestation, the government (state/federal) does a pretty good job of protecting the “historic” forests we have left. I’m all for saving the rain forest. I think what’s happening there and in Africa is terrible. But they aren’t going to the rain forest to cut down trees to make paper.

Here are some additional data points from that article:

  • Each year, the U.S. forest community plants some 1.5 billion seedlings. That’s an average of more than 4 million new trees planted every day!
  • More than 5 new trees are planted each year for every man, woman, and child in America, and millions more regrow naturally from seeds and sprouts.
  • There are more trees in America today than there were 70 years ago.

In summary… that 10 page doc you print out at work isn’t going to take out a forest. Make sure you recycle it when you are done. Don’t quit printing cuz you’ll just put my grandpa out of a job and that’s not nice. He’s a tough old bastard and could probably kick your ass. Oh… and deep… deep in my heart, I’m a lumberjack. And I’m OK.

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