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Excerpt from Strangely Like War

Paper Consumption (p. 121)

From chapter "The Failure of Solutions"

Global consumption of wood is up 50 percent since 1961. The foresters at the United Nations predicted that wood consumption would rise 23 percent between 1996 and 2010, and paper consumption would rise 30 percent. Like a smoker cutting down on New Year’s day, any slowdown in the consumption of wood and paper due to economic recessions will soon be lost in the next compulsive frenzy.

Japan is responsible for more than 40 percent of the world’s tropical wood trade. A third of the tropical wood that Japan imports is plywood used once or twice as cement forms, and then thrown away. Forty percent of Japan’s plywood supply, which comes from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Russia, is of illegal origins. It is painfully obvious that the Japanese do not have to use tropical plywood as disposable cement forms.

More than three-fourths of the tropical timber used in the U.S. is in the form of lauan plywood. It’s used for doors, under floors, as furniture backing, signs, and movie and theatre sets. And the U.S. is the world’s biggest importer of mahogany. It is painfully obvious that New York City simply does not have to use Brazilian ipe for its park benches or to deck its municipal boardwalks or the Brooklyn Bridge. Guyanan greenheart does not have to be used as pilings in the city’s harbors and marinas. African purpleheart does not have to be used for the crossties under New York’s subway tracks. Mahogany smuggled out of the Amazon and teak logged with Burmese slave labor do not need to be used for conference tables and desks.

There seems to be no limit to the amount of paper our culture can consume. We mentioned before that annual world paper consumption increased from 15 million tons in 1910 to 463 million tons in 1996. To consume that 463 million tons requires cutting 2 billion cubic yards of wood covering 2 million acres of forestland.

Paper consumption grows far faster than population. And the consumption is not spread evenly. The average person in America consumes almost 700 pounds of paper per year; the average in Great Britain and Japan is 330 pounds per year; the average in the nonindustrialized world is 12 pounds per year.

Not enough paper is recycled. Less than half of U.S. paper was recovered for reuse in 1997, and recovered waste paper accounted for only a third of the U.S. industry’s fiber needs. A third of U.S. printing and writing paper was recovered in 1997, most of it used to produce tissue and paperboard. Three-quarters of the corrugated cardboard boxes were recovered, and two-thirds of the newspapers. Even U.S. government agencies, which could jump-start the recovery of wastepaper in the United States, are required to buy no more than 10 percent recycled paper.

But here’s the kicker: two-thirds of the world’s paper is made into packaging, tissue, and other disposable products. It is painfully obvious that humans do not need to commit genocide, ecocide, and global suicide for the sake of tissue and paper bags. We are committing murder and suicide by wiping our behinds with ancient forests.