Many emails come with the tagline “Please consider your environmental responsibilities before printing this email” or “Save paper — Think Before you Print”. Recent media reports on proceedings in the Supreme Court reported that the massive use of paper means felling thousands of trees. This was cited as one of the reasons for going ‘paperless’.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. While there may be any number of reasons to move towards digitisation, it should not be linked to the felling of trees and environment protection. In fact, this is only part of the picture.

Linked to farms

Unlike in some parts of the world, the paper industry in India is not forest-based; it is an agro/farm forestry-based. Like any other crop, farmers grow trees on their lands and sell their harvest to paper mills.

Of the total demand for wood by the paper industry, around 90 per cent is sourced from industry-driven agro/farm forestry, with the rest from government and other sources. India’s paper industry is wood-positive, that is, it plants more trees than it uses.

Pioneering work has been carried out by the paper industry over the last three decades in producing tree saplings (eucalyptus, casuarina, subabul) which are disease- and drought-resistant and can be grown in a variety of climatic conditions. A large part of this wood is grown in backward marginal/sub-marginal land, which is potentially unfit for other use.

Intensive efforts mounted by paper mills have influenced plantation on about 900,000 ha all over India. About 125,000 ha are being brought under agro/farm forestry annually.

The paper industry has spent substantially on plantation R&D, production of high quality clonal saplings, technical extension services to improve agro/farm forestry services, and hand-holding of marginal farmers over a gestation period of 4-5 years. This has generated significant employment opportunities for the local community, especially in the rural areas. An estimated 5 lakh farmers are employed in growing and harvesting trees, in what is called Trees Outside Forests (TOF).

It’s a myth

There is no truth in the argument that using less paper saves the environment. The paper industry in India is not cutting forests; it has been encouraging the growing of trees at a fast pace in order to source wood. India is fibre-deficient and the demand-supply gap is a major constraint.

The growing of trees by the paper industry is leading to the absorption of carbon dioxide and helping the cause of mitigating climate change. The industry has also earned carbon credits for this initiative. It is significant that young trees grown by the paper industry absorb more carbon dioxide than the old ones. Therefore, the use of paper is good for the environment.

Paper and paperboard are also much more environment-friendly and better for packaging than materials such as plastic. Paper is biodegradable, renewable, recyclable and sustainable. Working forests support the environment, providing clean air, clean water through increased rainfall, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.

The writer is secretary-general of the Indian Paper Manufacturers’ Association (IPMA)

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