Environmental impact of paper industries

Paper is a cheap and easily available commodity in today’s markets. It is used for various purposes like writing,
printing etc. It is biodegradable as well. So how does this commodity pose any threat to the environment?

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The manufacture of paper is done by using wood from trees. Two types of wood i.e. softwood and hardwood are used for its manufacture. Trees can be cut down easily but it takes years for a tree to grow. So, with the number of trees being cut down on the higher side, it harms the environment in various ways. Plants and animals who are inhabitants of the forest lose their natural habitat. Trees take in carbon dioxide to give out oxygen and when the trees are gone carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. As carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the greenhouse effect increases causing global warming.

Water is required in large quantities for the manufacture of paper. This water which is being taken from some fresh water body in such large quantity can be utilized by animals, plants or humans for their day to day survival and it would last for a longer time when used wisely. Not only are the paper and pulp companies taking large quantities of water from freshwater bodies but they also dispose off their waste chemical effluents in the lakes or rivers near which they are situated, making it poisonous or unusable.

The gases released from the paper companies cause smog, acid rain, greenhouse etc. Sulpher oxides, nitrogen oxides, lead, cadmium, mercury are among the few gases emitted from these industries. Other than gases they also release particulate matter which causes respiratory problems and are carcinogens.

When paper is discarded, that is also a threat to the environment. This is because of toxic inks, dyes and other polymers which could mix with water and contaminate them or when burnt they form carcinogenic particles or smoke.

In the paper industry, the process of manufacturing paper includes heating water and other chemicals with wood chippings of hard and soft wood for several hours. To heat water, fuel has to be burnt. Fossil fuels are burnt for this purpose. Other than this, the paper produced is transported in vehicles which operate by combustion of fuel. Other processes like recycling and disposal also need fuels for its operation. During all these processes which include combustion of fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is produced which is a greenhouse gas.