How Is Paper Made Sustainably?

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For paper and packaging companies, thriving, sustainable forests are the key to survival. Which means their health has to be prioritized in every step of production.

Sustainable forestry is about stewardship and care—care for trees, naturally, but also for smaller plants, soil, wildlife and water. It creates a mutually supportive relationship between nature and people, through which we help sustain and renew the resources we depend on.

Sustainability has been the backbone of the paper industry for decades, and we couldn’t do what we do without it. Choosing paper is one way to show support for healthy forests because U.S. paper producers work with private landowners to purposely grow and maintain them.

Today, one-third of the U.S. is forested. That’s nearly 766 million acres, and private forests contribute to more than 50% of it.

Want to find out more about how sustainable forestry contributes to everything from notepads and magazines to pizza boxes?

Following is a look at how paper and packaging are made, from cultivation of flourishing forests through delivery of products, from the companies at the heart of it.

Step 1: The Trees Paper is Made From
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Papermakers in the U.S. rely heavily on softwood trees such as pines, firs, spruces and larches because their longer fibers produce stronger paper. We harvest just what we need. Equally important, we always replant more than we harvest. More than 1 billion trees are planted in the U.S. each year.

Step 2: Using Wood Byproducts to Power Paper Mills
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At paper mills, workers strip logs of their bark, which is combined with other wood residue to provide most of the power required for operations. The remaining wood is chipped up and moved to a digester.

Step 3: Producing Pulp to Make Paper
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There, wood fibers are separated from lignin, a natural aromatic alcohol in trees that holds their fibers together and provides sturdiness. Next, a washer removes the lignin, leaving behind brown pulp. More than 90% of the water used to make paper is cleaned and returned to the environment. U.S. paper mills have cut water use by 50% since 1975.

Step 4: Converting Wood Chips to Pulp
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In this step, the pulp is placed onto a wire screen where some of the water used to make it is drained away, leaving behind a large sheet. That sheet is run through a press, to remove even more water, then through huge dryers, ending up with paper that mills wind into a giant roll, cut and ship to customers from retailers to publishers.

Step 5: Recycling Gives Paper Products up to 7 Lives
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Once consumers buy the paper products and use them, many can be recycled. The possibilities include everything from printer paper to mail, cereal boxes, shipping containers, paper bags and more. Even better, paper products generally can be recycled as many as seven times, making paper one of the planet’s most sustainable resources.

Download your helpful recycling tips!
Download your helpful recycling tips!