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Where would we be without paper

Where Would We Be Without Paper?

We might live in the digital age, but there can be little doubt that paper is still one of the most important materials in the world. For most of us, it will be something we touch, see or use multiple times a day, probably without giving it a second thought.

Paper is understated and versatile, and arguably one of the most useful and powerful materials the human race has invented. It is also one of the most sustainable and recycled materials – in 2021, 71.4% (57.1 million tonnes) of all paper and board consumed in Europe was recycled [1]. And yet this remarkable product often goes unappreciated in a time when there seems to be an ‘appreciation day’ for just about everything.

An online search of ‘paper appreciation day’ reveals just two paper-related ‘appreciation days’: Toilet Paper Appreciation Day (8 December) and National Toilet Paper Day (26 August), both of which are in America.

Often, something is only fully appreciated when it is scarce – we perhaps all appreciated toilet paper a little more when the pandemic struck, and it disappeared rapidly from supermarket shelves. However, as we’ve acknowledged, toilet paper already gets more than its fair share of appreciation, although it’s perhaps worth addressing here some of the misinformation circulating about toilet paper and its sustainability.

The Truth About Toilet Paper

There have been some claims that “15% of global deforestation is from toilet rolls alone” [2]. The reality is really rather different; in fact, the percentage of global wood harvested for toilet roll production is between 0.6 and 1.3%. The key word here is ‘harvested’. Toilet roll production does not cause deforestation; in fact, between 2005 and 2015, European forests grew at a rate of 1,500 football pitches every day. And they’re still growing. So, there is no need to feel guilty about using toilet paper, just make sure that the toilet paper you buy is from a sustainable source – look for the FSC logo, or similar, on the packaging.

How Many Times Each Day Do You Touch, See Or Use Paper?

Paper comes in many forms, many of which play a simple but important role in our daily lives. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, we will encounter multiple paper and paper-based products.

Paper In Our Food Cupboards

Food packaging is a great example of the versatility of paper and paper-based materials, such as cardboard (also known as paperboard). Because paper and paperboard is printable, food packaging is able to carry important information about its contents, from the name of the product to its ingredients, nutritional information and even recipes. The strength of paperboard also makes it an ideal storage container – open any kitchen cupboard and you will likely see all different shapes and sizes of paper-based food storage, from cereal and pasta boxes to paper bags of flour and sugar.

As consumers, most of us love paper-based packaging, and with good reason. A recent survey revealed that 63% of consumers prefer paper/cardboard packaging because it is better for the environment [3] – as well as coming comes from a sustainable source, paper is incredibly easy to recycle.

Paper When We Shop

Without paper and paperboard, shopping would be a whole lot trickier. When we go into a physical shop, paper will be all around us, presenting us with special offers and promotions or directing us to a department or aisle. In a clothes shop, we will look at the price tag – also printed on paper – and carry our purchases home in a paper bag. Thanks to their sustainability, paper-based products are increasingly being used for shops’ fixtures and fittings, from shelving to signage and window displays.

When we shop online, we want our orders to arrive safely and well-presented. Paper usually plays a key role here, too. Depending on what we buy, it will likely be sent to us in robust outer packaging made from paper-based corrugated board. To stop your item from moving around in the box during transit, paper may well have been scrunched up inside the box. Your item – perhaps a bottle of perfume or a pair of trainers – will be presented in its branded packaging, also paper-based. Finally, once you’ve unwrapped it, you can put all of the packaging in your paper recycling bin.

Paper At School Or Work

At school or work, even though email and computers have become standard tools, paper is still an essential component. At school, exercise books and textbooks are used alongside online learning. Paper is used for art and to present information and decorate classrooms, its tactility an important part of the learning process.

At work, our time is increasingly spent online, with many eschewing paper as old-fashioned or wasteful. However, staring at a computer screen and our phones for several hours each day can be tiring and lead to eye strain. But, for many, paper is still an essential tool at work, from scribbling post-its, to drafting presentations and reports and much more. In fact, paper can be vital in helping to prevent digital overload.

Celebrating With Paper

Celebrating a special occasion? That usually involves a greeting card and paper to wrap a gift, and perhaps paper decorations we’ve either made or bought festooned from the ceiling or hanging in windows.

There will be countless more examples of where and how we touch, see or use paper every day – it is such an intrinsic part of life that we have to wonder where we would be without it. Maybe it’s time someone organised that ‘paper appreciation day’.

The Paper Fact File

Paper is one of the most sustainable and recycled materials in the world!

Visit the Paper Fact File to discover the facts about paper’s sustainable attributes. Some might surprise you!