This post was originally published on Saturday, September 6, 2008.
Until lately we were quoting the figure of 20 million trees as the common estimate for the number of trees cut down annually for the production of books sold in the U.S. alone. Not any more. And unfortunately, the update is not positive. We’re updating this figure to (approximately) 30 million trees.
The base for the new estimate is the report ‘Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry,’ prepared by The Green Press Initiative and The Book Industry Study Group. This is probably the most important report that was published recently on the environmental impacts of the book publishing industry.
According to the report the amount of paper consumed annually for books in the U.S. is 1.6 million metric tons (2006 figures). To convert it into trees figure, we will multiply it in 20, as the figures usually used are in the range of 17-24. So the total we get is about 32 million trees, and if we round it – about 30 million trees.
I was really hoping that the first time we will update the 20 million figure it will be to a lower figure and it also made sense with the growing use of recycled paper for the production of books. Still, it shows that the growth in production of books (which means growth in the use of virgin paper) is faster than the growth of recycled paper usage, which according to our estimates is still less than 10% of the total paper used for the production of books in the U.S.
And just to be clear – most of these trees that are cut down come from un-farmed sources (not to mention the fact that tree farms themselves have in many cases a devastating impact on native forests and indigenous communities). Mandy Haggith, the author of the new book Paper Trails explained it to the Independent recently:
No one likes to think of trees being felled, but many of us have a cosy image in our heads that it all comes from recycling or “sustainable” woodlands growing in neat rows, perhaps somewhere in Sweden. It’s a myth. Globally, 70 per cent of the 335 million tons of paper the world uses each year comes from natural, un-farmed sources. In Canada, the UK’s biggest source of pulp, 90 per cent of its output comes directly from its ancient forests.
I truly hope that this is the last time this number increases. Steps are being taken by publishers with the support of readers, authors, bookstores, printers, organizations and many others, but we need to move faster to lower these figures. Eco-Libris, as we stated many times before, sees itself as an agent of change in the book industry and will continue to work with many parties in this industry all over the globe to make sure that the next time we update you with new figures, it will be a lower figure and not just another increase.