Paper Industry Laying Waste to North American Forests
Giant paper producers are forcing the destruction of our continent's most vibrant forests, and devastating the habitat for countless wildlife species in the process. Instead of making better use of materials such as post-consumer recycled fiber and agricultural residue to meet the escalating demand for toilet paper, paper towels and other disposable tissue products, these companies buy virgin pulp from suppliers that reach deep into North American forests for timber, from northern Canada to the southeastern United States. To help halt this destruction, NRDC and other conservation groups are pressuring the tissue products industry to change its practices and educating consumers about the choices they have when buying tissue paper products.
Many U.S. tissue paper manufacturers operate in both the United States and Canada, and tree fiber, pulp and tissue paper products move across the border among logging operations, pulp mills, tissue paper mills and consumer markets. These companies rely on virgin fiber from the Canadian boreal forest, as well as from the biologically sterile tree plantations that are quickly taking the place of species-rich U.S. forests, especially those in the Southeast.
NRDC research has identified some of the tissue paper companies contributing to the destruction of these woodlands and is applying pressure to persuade them to adopt environmentally sound practices. Many large tissue producers use trees from Canada's boreal forests and buy pulp from companies that harvest trees from the boreal. The majority of the at-home products these companies produce -- brands consumers find in grocery stores and other retail outlets -- contain little or no recycled content at all. These practices are markedly different than those of companies such as Cascades, Canada's second largest tissue product manufacturer, which meets 97 percent of its pulp requirements with recycled fiber.
Each year, due to ongoing demand from tissue companies, clearcut logging claims half a million acres of Ontario and Alberta's boreal forest -- a primeval expanse of pine, spruce, fir and poplar trees that nourishes caribou, lynx, bear, wolves and scores of songbirds. Indigenous communities depend on the wildlife and plants of this forest for sustenance and medicine. The thick layers of moss, soil and peat of Canada's boreal, which stretches across the country's entire northern range, form one of the world's largest terrestrial storehouses of carbon dioxide and play a critical role in preventing global warming.
The native forests of the southeastern United States also are vanishing at an alarming rate. These fragile ecosystems support dense stands of oak, hickory, black gum and red maple, and provide a haven for deer, fox and more than 230 fish species. But sprawling plantations of single-species pine are quickly taking the place of crucial forest habitat and food sources in this region. The southern United States now contains approximately half of the world's tree plantations, and due in part to increasing demand for paper products, the area of these plantations is expected to increase by 63 percent -- to 52 million acres -- by 2040.
Tissue manufacturers should help protect North America's remaining forests by making better use of forest friendly alternatives to virgin wood fiber. Some mills already use post-consumer wastepaper to make tissue paper products, but most companies sell the vast majority of these products only to commercial and industrial consumers.
Until tissue paper manufacturers end their dependence on virgin fiber, North America's most ecologically rich forests will continue to be destroyed for paper throwaways.
last revised 8.4.09
Photos: Southeast, top and bottom, © James Valentine, Quest Foundation; Hinton Forest, © Cortesi/ForestEthics
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