Guest Blog: Still Unsure of the Benefits of Recycling? Look to the Rainforests.

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Ever since recycling of goods became a widespread, commercial enterprise, skeptics have hailed the process as worthless. Many argue that the emissions from recycling are greater than that of producing virgin paper, or that the emissions from the transportation of recycled goods outweigh the carbon saved by not cutting down trees.


However, research shows that while the early days of recycling presented fairly clunky, emission-heavy recycling processes, advances in technology have improved and streamlined the methods used to recycled materials. Data from the Bureau of International Recycling shows that producing paper via the recycling route entails 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution, although the organization does not say how it reached this figure or what is taken into account.

Regardless of continuing arguments about whether trucks carrying logs produce more CO2 than trucks carrying recycled paper or whether materials recycled in China produce more gases than virgin products made in the UK, a highly informative article by Daniel Howden of The Independent explains why we are missing the bigger picture. In order to slow the change in climate and regulate the ever more extreme weather patterns, he says we need to turn our eyes to the rainforests.

According to Howden, while the destruction of the world’s rainforests is now being recognized as one of the main causes of climate change, global leaders are turning a blind eye to the crisis of worldwide deforestation. Of course, trees are not only felled to make paper. Areas are also cleared for cattle grazing, and agriculture, including the growth of palm oil and ostensibly health-promoting acai berries to fulfill the surge in demand.

However, without the demand for wood, the act of clearing rainforests would be far less lucrative. The rainforests, the majority of which are situated in South America and Indonesia, form a protection cooling band around the Earth’s equator as well as generating the bulk of the rainfall worldwide.

With the annual area of deforestation amounting to 50 million acres – or an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland, the rainforests now cover less than 7% of the earth. However, the remaining forest is calculated to contain 1,000 billion tons of carbon, or double what is already in the atmosphere.

The article cites a report published by the Global Canopy Programme (GPC), an alliance of leading rainforest scientists, which states that the emission of greenhouse gases as a result of the “rampant slashing and burning” of these tropical forests is second only to the energy sector. According to Howden, deforestation in the next 24 hours will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as 8 million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers, he argues, is the fastest and cheapest solution to climate change.

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Of course, some paper products now come from sustainable forests. But much of it does not. Re-growing trees in sustainable forests is a slow process and therefore, it is often deemed quicker and cheaper to reap wood from virgin forests. However, the most effective way to reduce the demand for paper is to recycle it.

Howden’s article demonstrates that the arguments regarding the amount of gases emitted during the recycling process are secondary to the urgent need to halt the deforestation. As the GCP’s report concludes: “If we lose forests, we lose the fight against climate change.”


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