Should we recycle paper products given what this paper pointed out?

In "Limited climate benefits of global recycling of pulp and paper" (pdf) they write:

We [...] show that additional recycling yields small or negative climate change mitigation benefits when it requires high-carbon grid electricity and displaces virgin pulping that is powered by low-carbon pulping by-products.

We are, in most places, a long way from renewable grids. Maybe a good idea is to suspend this practice?

  • If you instead quit using paper all around, sure, please go ahead.
    – Erik
    Dec 30, 2021 at 10:17

1 Answer 1


That paper is totally wrong.

Nobody except China is planning to install large amounts of fossil baseload power.

In developed nations, all increased power production is wind (on- and offshore) and solar and perhaps little bit natural gas peakers. Nuclear is dying because of its high cost, but few areas are still constructing new zero-carbon nuclear power. We probably would be using more hydropower too but geographical constraints limit the amount of hydropower than can be produced. About the only new plants that are not in this zero-carbon list are natural gas peakers. In a balanced electricity system, peaker plants produce perhaps 15% of the energy, and about half of that can be realistically hydropower. So the other half, 7.5%, comes from natural gas (400 g / kWh of electricity). 7.5% * 400 g / kWh = 30 g / kWh. That's nothing compared to the 1000 g / kWh of coal power.

My point is that solutions to problems the human race faces that use massive amounts of electricity should be encouraged rather than discouraged. The new power production that will be installed will produce about 30 g / kWh of electricity, only 3% of that of coal power. It doesn't make sense financially to use for example natural gas baseload (400 g / kWh) because it can't compete with a system predominantly based on solar and wind power.

So, given the 30 g / kWh emissions of new to-be-installed capacity, the problem of electricity use in paper recycling is practically zero. It makes sense to recycle paper, because it reduces the demand of new pulp, which means most of harvested pulpwood can be used for better uses such as creating biochar to permanently store carbon out of the atmosphere.

  • Why does making virgin corrugated containers take more energy than making it from recycled materials (p. 3-14 here: epa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/documents/…)? Dec 27, 2021 at 4:26
  • Also, why is recycling of corrugated containers heavily disadvantageous at the processing stage on p. 3-14 but slightly beneficial to virgin production on p. 3-13 (exhibit 3-17, -0,02 MTCO2E/Short Ton)? In other words, what is the difference between "Recycled Input Credit" and "Difference Between Recycled and Virgin Manufacture"? Why do they differ so much? Please respond, it keeps bothering me Dec 27, 2021 at 7:07

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