If you have that line on your email signature or a sign hanging in your workplace saying, “Please consider the environment before printing,” you are misinformed.
It’s kind of like if the public gets enough of something, they begin to believe it is true. When was the last time you slipped on a banana peel?
The myth: Computers are green, and paper is not.
The truth: Books, newspapers and other printed products are far, far more environmentally friendly than the computers, cellphones, e-tablets, videogame consoles and other electronics we use daily. You can take that to the bank and to the library.
Paper is the most recycled commodity in the United States. Americans are good at recycling paper. The Environmental Protection Agency says more than 65 percent of it was recycled in 2012 in our country. All kinds of products are made from recycled paper — from paper plates to toilet paper to egg cartons. These days, newsprint — the type of paper used for newspapers — is made from 30 to 100 percent of recycled paper.
Wood for paper comes from pulp forests in the United States and Canada. It’s a crop, much like we grow corn and soybeans in the farm fields just outside our Twin Cities suburbs, only instead of taking a summer, they take 20 years. In fact, there are more trees in North America today than a century ago. The Forest Service says it is 28 percent more. Buying paper products results in more trees, not fewer.
If you are worried about devastation of the forest and saving the planet, stop eating Girl Scout Cookies. Yes, Girl Scout Cookies. I am sorry, but they contain palm oil. In fact, look at ingredients on many products, from shampoos to crackers to cookies to ice cream, to see if they contain palm oil. Farmers in the tropics are cutting down the rainforests to plant this crop — furthering the greenhouse effect.
Paper companies, in contrast, replant more than the trees they cut.
Americans are bad at recycling electronics. The EPA estimates Americans get a new cellphone every 18 months, and only about 1 to 10 percent are recycled. The rest end up in landfills.
OK, how about this? The United Nations says the electronics industry generates 41 million tons of e-waste each year, and it’s rising to 50 million.
The CBS show “60 Minutes” back in 2008 detailed some early concerns about e-waste. Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said about computers: “Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides. All of these materials have known toxicological effects that range from brain damage to kidney disease to mutations, cancers.”
And he said this: “The problem with e-waste is that it is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide.”
Much of that waste is shipped to developing countries, and Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” tracked a shipment from Denver to Hong Kong, and it contained chemicals that, by federal law, are illegal to ship and to import.
“It is absolutely illegal, both from the standpoint of Hong Kong law but also U.S. law and Chinese law. But it’s happening,” said Jim Puckett, who founded a watchdog group that aims to stop rich countries from dumping e-waste on poor ones.
That was 2008. Is it still happening? In 2016, Puckett’s nonprofit, the Basel Action Network, put GPS tracking devices in 205 items, and about a third of them left the country — Mexico, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Canada and Kenya. Most often, to Hong Kong. Some were from recyclers that promoted green recycling, but it was just a scam.
What’s more: How is it that something that requires no power to operate — paper — was deemed to be less green that something requiring electricity? We should take a collective “duh!” as a society here.
Only 21 percent of Minnesota’s electricity came from renewable energy in 2015. The rest: 44 percent coal, 21 percent nuclear, 13 percent natural gas.
No matter how you stand on coal — or on West Virginia mountaintops, for that matter — a product requiring no electricity to use is greener than something that does.
Of course, let’s not forget that our devices require rare earth elements. They aren’t exactly rare, but they are difficult to mine, and we get all of ours from China, which made prices so low that American mines went out of business. Need a computer chip for that smart bomb? A laser? A jet engine? We have to call China, a communist country.
I don’t think the paper industry is threatening our national defense.
Go green. Be edgy. Use paper.