I am a grad student who can't stand reading pdfs on a laptop. Combined with my minor ADD, I always end up on reddit or stackexchange websites wasting time. Also, when I present my research to my supervisor, he wants me to print everything out. However, I always chicken out printing pdfs, my lecture notes, research material because I want to save on paper.

Now, my question is how sustainable is paper? Paper obviously comes from trees and trees can be replanted, but are we cutting down more trees then we are replanting? Also, what is the recycling situation of paper? How much paper does actually get recycled? If we are recycling a high percentage of paper into new paper, then I don't have to "feel bad" printing my material.

I am looking for answers with sources (I've tried googling, but not found the information I need). I am based in Toronto, Ontario.

  • I don't know about other areas but our recycling center says it does not want printer paper. There is something in it they don't want. For paper products they only take cardboard and newspaper.
    – Steve
    Dec 9, 2014 at 15:45
  • Toronto very definitely takes printer paper. Dec 27, 2014 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


Depsite all the data below (may require further calculation), I think your various questions indicate that you would like to get a feel for the latest big picture view of paper recycling in your area and how it will affect your feelings about printing documents.

The 2008 data from a report in Statistics Canada (updated in 2012) indicated (their data, my calculation) approx. 3.74 million tons of mixed paper is diverted from municipal solid waste for recycling per year. I believe your printed materials would fall in this category.

The stages of feeling good or bad could correlate to various techniques of paper usage. Conservation is ideal but some balance should be struck with usage despite how much paper is recycled.

The US EPA found that recycling causes 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than making virgin paper, but there are other concerns like the VOCs/heavy metals/non-renewable oils in the ink, recycling energy costs, transportation, et al.

Paper mills and timber industries provide a great deal of public information and statistics around paper recycling, virgin manufacturing and trees as a renewable resource but they have a vested interest and often avoid mentioning the impacts on wildlife and that nearly all harvesting occurs from old-growth or primary forests.

To make a decision it's best to consider all of this and realize that not using a resource is generally better than having to rely on reuse or recycle to recoup the costs mentioned above. You could also go a bit further by calculating energy costs et al for paperless alternatives.

Source of extremely crude calculation above:

Satistics Canada > Publications 16-201-X Human Activity and the Environment

Municipal Solid Waste: 34 Million Tons (Major categories of solid waste, various years; Municipal Solid Waste data are for 2008) (Chart 2.1)

Mixed Paper: 11% (Solid waste Chart 3.3 Material prepared for recycling, by weight, 2008)

By weight, organic materials accounted for the largest proportion of waste diversion in 2008, with 2,439,223 tonnes diverted, 29% of total waste diversion, followed by cardboard and boxboard (17%) and newsprint (13%) (Table 3.3 and Chart 3.3).

Sources: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-201-x/2012000/ct006-eng.htm (Chart 3.3) http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-201-x/2012000/ct001-eng.htm (Chart 2.1)

Other paper recycling quantity sources and figures...

Thad McIlroy cites a Canadian Encyclopedia entry (that seems to no longer contain these same figures): "About 95% of their fiber comes from wood from forests, the balance from wastepaper and a very small quantity of linen and cotton rags."

Source: http://thefutureofpublishing.com/industries/the-future-of-paper/

Generic non-dated industry stats quoted include:

Paper and paper products accounts for more than 1/3 of all Canada’s waste. Source: Environment Canada

Canada uses 6 million tonnes of paper and paperboard annually. Only 1/4 of Canada’s waste paper and paperboard is recycled. Source: Environment Canada

(Uncited excerpts from: http://www.id2.ca/downloads/eco-design-paper-facts.pdf)

Other interesting facts from Publication 16-001-M, no. 13 Recycling by Canadian Households, 2007 published to Statistics Canada in 2010: (Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-001-m/16-001-m2010013-eng.htm)

Given access to recycling programs, households were more likely to report that they had recycled all of their glass waste (74%) than all of their paper waste (62%).

QUOTE: The Environmental Paper Network (EPN) has some sobering figures on paper recycling, including this: “After more than 30 years of recycled-paper market development, recycled content has reached the dizzying height of 6 per cent of the overall fibre that goes into printing and writing papers.” And only 3 per cent of that is post-consumer recycled content. In their article for Resource Recycling (June 2009), Pam Blackledge (of EPN) and Susan Kinsella (of Conservatree) write, “Put another way, more than 90 per cent of the printing and office paper available in North America still has no recycled content at all.”

Source: http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/inadequate-paper-recycling-programs-canada#sthash.st7DRhDN.dpuf

Posted: July 04, 2012 Original: By Joyce Nelson Nov-Dec-2010-Vol20-No5

Canadian Waste Generation Per Capita (kg/yr) 894.0 - The average amount of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generated annually per person.

Canadian Recycling Rate: 26.8% - The amount of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) recycled as a proportion of total MSW generated.

Canadian Paper and Cardboard: 26.0% - The percentage of the paper/cardboard fraction in the country's waste composition:

Waste Atlas > Visualizations From: http://www.atlas.d-waste.com/

Other interesting related information:




http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/pulp-and-paper-industry/ (mentions Domtar)

http://www.paperbecause.com/paper-is-sustainable/paper-truth-or-fiction (info presented by Domtar)








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