Green Junction: Trees. By Julie Peller, Ph.D.

An enormous number of trees are harvested daily for paper and cardboard products. The trees are transported, processed into pulp, then into coarse paper, and finally, cardboard or paper products. Pine trees with long fibers are required for corrugated paper packaging (cardboard). At a major processing plant in the International Paper facility in the Georgia city of Rome, over 8,000 trees are processed every day of the year. The United States is the second leading manufacturer and user of corrugated paper.

The rising requirement for cardboard boxes has been from the growth of online purchases, increased transportation of goods, and growing populations. The worldwide corrugated paper production in 2020 was estimated at 175 million tons. The pandemic and other changes and increases in the distribution of goods led to record production of cardboard in 2021, and additional increases every quarter this year. 

Since most cardboard is made from recycled paper and tree pulp, it is made from renewable sources. However, it is important that forests are sustainably managed. New trees need to be regularly planted to replace the harvested ones. Corrugated paper products are the most recycled material, with a nearly 90% recycling rate in the United States over the past decade. The most eco-friendly option (after reducing materials since all industrial processes use resources and energy and generate emissions) is cardboard made from post-consumer or post-industrial recycled paper and cardboard. The carbon footprint for corrugated paper production is estimated at 491 kg of carbon dioxide per ton. In comparison, since a mature tree absorbs about 21 kg of carbon dioxide annually, it takes 23 trees to offset the emissions of a ton of corrugated cardboard. “December’s gifts – custom, ceremony, celebration, consecration – come to us wrapped up, not in tissue and ribbons, but in cherished memories.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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