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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and the Fourth R

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Many of us grew up in a time when we finished with a piece of paper, crumpled it up and tossed it into a waste paper basket.

Then recycling bins came along. And with it a message of reduce, reuse and recycle.

Some time over the 1980s they started appearing; blue boxes distributed at homes, offices and schools. We can recall separating our recycling from our household garbage, being in our class room or office and learning to adapt and change our ways -- no longer did that discarded paper go into the waste basket. It went into the blue box.

That square, deep blue bin signalled we were doing our bit for the environment. No longer would our old papers, unneeded reports, scrap sheets make their way to the landfill -- no, they would be recycled and with that we would herald a new era of earth friendliness and reduce the number of trees cut down each year to feed our paper consumption because we'd have recycled paper.

Flash forward to 2013. It's time to revisit the three Rs and add a fourth -- renewable. The fact is that despite living in a digital era, we are anything but a paperless society, in fact even with the proliferation of digital data and the inclusion of recycling efforts, global paper demand for paper has continued to rise. We'd like to think that once we put that paper in the blue box that we're making a difference. We are. But some key facts to keep in mind are:
  • Paper can be only be recycled to a maximum of seven times -- after that, it becomes waste.
  • The amount of recycled content we get from consumer paper waste is dependent upon the efficiency of each mill. For example, recycling mills, particularly in North America have to upgrade for efficiency and sustainability if they're to pull out more reusable fibre.
So what can we do? By adding the fourth R -- renewable -- we can help strengthen our environmental commitment while still meeting the growing paper demand. This is where Rapidly Renewable Fibre (RRF) comes in. RRF is made with environmentally friendly trees from plantations. They are optimized to save energy while protecting old-growth forests. And when it comes to sustainability efforts, there's room for both recycled material and RRF. Together, RRF and recycling can provide a long-term, sustainable solution because the advent of sustainable tree plantations is transforming the paper industry. Tree plantations in regions like Southeast Asia produce RRF because the region's tropical climate along the earth's equatorial band is optimal for accelerated growth and shortened maturity cycles for trees. For example, acacia and eucalyptus trees in Southeast Asia can be grown and harvested (much like crops such as corn and wheat) in about six years, rather than the nearly 60 years it can take to harvest a tree in northern climates. RRF saves energy, and because they are a renewable source for fibre, old-growth trees can be protected, even amid the rising global demand for paper products.

As a sustainable, footprint-minimizing commodity, together recycled material and RRF offer a winning combination.

Ian Lifshitz is North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), the third largest pulp & paper company in the world. To learn more about APP's community initiatives, sustainability efforts and to take part in conversations about the rainforest, visit Rainforest Realities.

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