East Vs West – The paper recycling trail

India consumes just 3% of paper globally and recycles 20% of the paper it consumes, whereas the US recycles upwards of 60%.


“Why would you spend good money on something that ends up in the garbage?” was the question my father posed at the end of my rather dramatic lecture on the elaborate process of recycling we, as immigrants, follow in the US.

My incessant crowing on how we “cared” about the environment must have intrigued him. So within minutes of his arrival to the USA, he started quizzing me and I began by showcasing the recycle bin and detailing our religious recycling of milk cartons, junk mail and various paper products. At the end of my passionate discourse, he calmly pointed to the ones we use but cannot recycle like paper towels, facial tissues and toilet paper and proffered the million dollar question. He also added insult to the injury by reminding me that Indians hardly use any of these and an average Indian household consumed paper only in the form of a daily newspaper. After reusing that for a multitude of household purposes (lining the shelves, oil absorbent etc.) they were handed over to the kailaan kadai karan (waste paper collector). Was this true? Did we as immigrants consume more and hence had to recycle more responsibly? Whatever happened to paperless office and the green dream that developed countries boasted off. I set off to prove my father wrong.

But as always, he was right. India has 17% of the world’s population, but it consumes just 3% of paper globally. The per capita consumption of paper in India is still abysmally low, at around 10 kg, which is well below the global average of 55 kg. North Americans still consume more paper per capita – upwards of 225kg. annually – higher than anyone else on earth. But owing to its population, if an average Indian increased his consumption by a single digit the effect would metamorphose at the national level. With the increase in literacy and growth in GDP the consumption is set to double by 2020. So while consumption does not offer triumph to either side, we turn towards production.

In India, the paper industry is primarily social-farm forestry-based, with close linkages to the farming community. Over the last decade, industry-led farm-social forestry has brought around 0.5 million hectare under pulp wood plantation, which was mainly degraded marginal land of farmers. At present, the industry sources 80% of its requirement of wood through farm forestry. In fact, today the paper industry is ‘wood positive’ as it grows more plantations than it consumes. With captive plantation policies and agro-forestry initiatives, IPMA (Indian Paper Manufacturing Association) claims that the Paper industry is agro-based and not forest-based.

Although US sources 80% of its paper production from recycled fibre, Americans generally like their paper towels and tissues to be fluffier. To ensure this fluffiness they need to use virgin fibre or simply put, wood from trees. Each year, due to ongoing demand from tissue companies, clear-cut logging claims half a million acres of Ontario and Alberta’s boreal forest, and is the leading contributor to the extinction of native forests in the South Eastern United States. While this issue can be solved by simply educating the consumer, the US trudges forward by gobbling up the world’s wood.

Why go through the onus of recycling paper? When paper decomposes in a landfill, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. India recycles 20% of the paper it consumes whereas the US recycles upwards of 60%. In addition to this, India still lacks a robust system of waste paper collection, sorting, and grading. India imports recycled paper to source its production quarries which not only looks foolish but also becomes a citizen issue.

In India, the first step towards being sustainable and ecologically responsible is to recycle. Initiatives like the Paperman (Spirit of recycling), Jaagruti (Waste Paper Recycling Services in Delhi –NCR) and Pastiwala aid us to a great extent. Just call and get it done.

As far as immigrants are concerned, we have to ensure that the paper products we consume are made exclusively from recycled paper. Since paper can be recycled only so many times, it is ideal that we use them in this form before they end up in the garbage. But even better is to avoid using them altogether (wherever possible) because why pay good money on something that ends up in the trash?

East Vs West is a series that introspects the sustainable and superfluous choices we make by reflecting and juxtaposing the Indian and Immigrant (domestic) lifestyles.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meera Ramanathan is a freelance writer dabbling in food, cinema and travel. She lives in Connecticut while maintaining roots in Chennai and is often caught in the immigration melodrama. She blogs ardently at http://dreamzwild.wordpress.com. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meera Ramanathan is a freelance writer dabbling in food, cinema and travel. She lives in Connecticut while maintaining roots in Chennai and is often caught in the immigration melodrama. She blogs ardently at http://dreamzwild.wordpress.com. more

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  • Meera

    Saraja: We def shdnt be aping the west, most certainly not on this.
    Bhavani: thanks. Ignorance is always at the center of most problems right?