Paper is useful and precious: facts you need to know

Bread from wheat. Milk from cows. Paper from trees.

All paper in South Africa is produced from plantation-grown trees, recycled paper or bagasse (sugar cane fibre).  Plantation-grown trees are farmed for paper, just as maize is planted for cereals and wheat for bread.

Our fibre is not sourced from the wood of rainforests, indigenous or boreal trees. This is a myth, often wrongfully perpetuated by e-mail footnotes.

In South Africa, 600 million trees across 762,000 hectares are specifically grown for use in pulp and paper manufacture and the industry plants in excess of 260,000 trees every single day.

The industry has made significant advances in terms of environmental sustainability over recent decades.

The use of renewable biomass-based energy has enabled the industry to avoid the use of 1,3 million tons of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas annually and therefore the associated carbon emissions.

The industry is a significant employer and contributes to jobs in rural areas, foreign exchange earnings and GDP growth.

Over 170,000 people are employed because we grow trees and conduct all the downstream activities. Roads are developed in deep rural areas, and clinics, hospitals, schools and communities are sustained.

There aren’t many industries around that can aspire to becoming genuinely sustainable. The pulp and paper industry, however, is one of them. It is inherently sustainable. 

Jonathan Porritt, chairman 2000–2009, UK Sustainability Development Commission



Plantations are atmospheric carbon sinks which mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) and releasing oxygen through the natural process of photosynthesis.

South Africa’s timber plantations, which cater for pulp and paper, furniture and other wood based-products, lock up 900 million tons of CO2 — a key environmental service and a means of mitigating climate change. (Forestry South Africa, 2011)

Only 9% of the total plantation area is harvested annually. This is replanted within the same year. 

Only mature trees are harvested.

Carbon absorption continues as the new trees grow and young trees are able to absorb carbon more rapidly than the older trees. These trees, and thus paper products, are a renewable resource.

If it were not for the pulp and paper industry operating world-wide for the last 150 years the CO2 levels in the atmosphere would be 5% higher (about half a degree in Celsius) than they are at present. (National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Special Report No 07-02.The greenhouse gas and carbon profile of the global forest products industry, February 2007)


Paper versus digital. The great debate.

Opting for electronic billing is far from ‘going green’. It is simply about reducing cost (to the service provider) and improving convenience to you as the user.

Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the Government Economic Service in the United Kingdom, released the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change in 2006. This tackled the effects of climate change and global warming on the world economy. He used the 700-page document to demonstrate how paper and print have a better environmental footprint than electronic communications.

Printing the Stern Review emits 85g of CO2 (one copy can be read over and over again without further emissions).

Reading the Stern Review on a computer for one hour emits 226g of CO2 every time.

Burning the Stern Review to CD is estimated to emit 300g of CO2 for every copy, while burning it to DVD is estimated to produces 350g of CO2 for every copy.

Stern notes that sending 50kb via e-mail causes the same emission as posting a 10g item, with all its fossil fuel consumption in mail delivery etc.

The big difference is that reading an item on a computer emits greenhouse gases at the rate of 3.8g of CO2 per minute. Reading a piece of paper results in no additional emissions.



An important reason for paper recycling is that it extends the period over which the carbon in the paper is locked out of the atmosphere.

Paper recovery and recycling reduces costs to local municipal authorities and frees up space at landfill sites.

Recycling creates jobs for many in the informal and formal sector.

With 65% of recovered paper used as raw material in paper mills, more than half of the country’s paper mills depend on recycled fibre and a number of them use it as their only
fibre source.

Paper can be recycled up to seven times.


Sustainable plantation management makes all the difference.

South Africa has the highest level of international certification of its plantations in the world. Over 80% of South African plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  PAMSA members subscribe to the FSC’s Chain of Custody which tracks FSC-certified material through the production process – from the forest to the consumer, including all successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing and distribution. Consumers should look out for paper and wood products bearing the FSC mark of certification.

The industry has 1,6 million hectares of FSC-certified land of which only about one million hectares are planted to trees. The majority of the other 600,000 hectares are grasslands. These have been assessed by South African National Biodiversity Institute to be the best conserved grasslands in the country. It is therefore important when referring to impacts of monocultures on biodiversity, that they are considered at landscape level and not at stand level.

Our plantations require neither irrigation nor regular fertilising. The total annual water requirement/usage for timber plantations was calculated to be 428 million m3 per year, approximately 3% of the total annual water usage in South Africa. By comparison, water used for irrigating crops amounts to 7,9 billion m3 or 62% of the total annual requirement. (National Water Resource Strategy: Dept. Water Affairs and Forestry 2004)

The industry has also voluntarily reduced its plantation area by 80,000 hectares in riverine and other ecologically sensitive areas.

Further downstream, pulp and paper manufacturers have implemented water recycling technologies to reduce the industry’s water footprint.

All information supplied by PAMSA – Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa. Visit

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