Mandala collage of mail order catalogs
Chris Jordan

Photographer Chris Jordan created a mandala in 2011 from 9,600 mail order catalogs. It represents the number of catalogs printed, shipped, and delivered every three seconds, 97 percent of which are disposed of the day they arrive. This is part of a larger series titled “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait.” This piece is called Three Second Meditation.

Recycled Paper

Reduce SourcesIndustryUse Waste
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Billion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Recycled paper takes a circular journey, rather than a linear flow from logging to landfill. Reprocessing used paper curtails extraction of virgin feedstock and lowers emissions.

Solution Summary*

Paper use globally is on the rise, particularly for packaging materials. Roughly half of paper is used once and then sent to the proverbial scrap heap. But the other half is recovered and repurposed. In some places, that recovery rate reaches 75 percent. Bringing the world up to that level can reduce emissions of the paper industry, estimated to be as high as 7 percent annually.

Recycling makes paper’s journey circular, rather than a straight line from logging to landfill. Instead of relying on fresh timber to feed the pulping process—and releasing carbon with each tree cut—recycled paper draws on existing material, either discarded before reaching a consumer’s hands or, ideally, after serving its intended purpose. Instead of releasing methane as it decomposes in a landfill, wastepaper finds new life.

Once recovered, used paper is shredded, pulped, cleaned, and rid of contaminants. It can then be made into any number of products, from office paper to newsprint to toilet paper rolls. A particular piece of paper can be reprocessed roughly five to seven times, before fibers are no longer viable. In addition to curbing emissions, recycled paper spares forests and reduces water use.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

Over 30 years, recycled paper can deliver 1.10–1.95 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions reductions. Two key assumptions inform that conclusion: (1) recycled paper produces about 25 percent fewer total emissions than conventional paper, and (2) the percentage of recycled paper being used to produce paper would rise from 55 percent to 69–74 percent by 2050. Although increasing recycled paper content uses more electricity, the emissions related to harvesting and processing—and the total emissions from pulping and manufacturing—are higher for paper using virgin wood feedstock. The emissions reductions for this solution do not include carbon sequestration from standing trees that would not be harvested if the use of recycled paper grows.