Does paper recycling benefit the climate? It depends

A row of blue paper recycling bins stuffed with cardboard.

Enlarge (credit: John Lambert
Pearson / Flickr
)

For many people, the most familiar way to “go green” or
“be eco-friendly” is probably paper recycling. (And perhaps its
aging office cousin: “Consider a tree before you print this
email.”) There are many ways to evaluate the environmental
benefits of such actions, and one of those is greenhouse gas
emissions. So how does paper recycling stack up in this regard?

That’s a more interesting question than it may seem, namely
because of the way paper products are made. Processing pulp to make
paper is typically powered by “black
liquor
”—a byproduct organic sludge with some useful
properties. Burning it for heat and electricity to run the mill is
approximately carbon neutral, since the carbon you emit into the
air started out in the air (before a temporary stint as tree
stuff). So if your recycling process generates CO2 as it makes new
paper, recycling could end up increasing emissions.

A new study led by Stijn van
Ewijk
at Yale University tries to do the math on this, using
practical scenarios for the next few decades. Namely, they
calculate whether increasing paper recycling would make it easier
or harder to hit emissions targets that would halt global warming
at 2°C.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Does paper recycling benefit the climate? It depends