The Air We Breathe

June 5, is World Environment Day. The 2019 theme is Beat Air Pollution —something we at AF&PA and the greater U.S. paper and wood products industry have been dedicated to for decades.

Our latest greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal, which is part of AF&PA’s Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 sustainability initiative, aims to reduce emissions from member company facilities by at least 20 percent between 2005 and 2020. Our last sustainability report shows that members achieved a 19.9 percent reduction in 2016, nearly reaching the goal. And this is after they surpassed the previous goal of a 15 percent reduction in GHG emissions in 2014.

Members achieved these great reductions by using efficient manufacturing processes, generating carbon-neutral biomass fuel on-site and replacing traditional fossil fuels like oil and coal with less carbon-intensive natural gas. In 2016, carbon-neutral biomass and renewable fuels provided, on average, about two-thirds of member facility energy needs.

Member company pulp and paper mills actively reduce other (non-greenhouse gas) air emissions as well. Sulfur dioxide emissions, which are a major contributor to acid rain, were reduced by 73 percent between 2000 and 2016. The decreased use of fuels with a high sulfur content, energy efficiency gains, improved combustion systems and increased prevalence of sulfur removal systems at pulp mills led to the significant decline.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions were reduced by 36 percent between 2000 and 2016. NOx contributes to the formation of particulate matter and ozone and originates mostly from the combustion of fossil and biomass fuels to generate steam and power in the manufacturing process.

In addition to deliberate efforts to reduce our industry’s emissions, the source of the raw material we use to make products—forests—cleans the air. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to sugars used for their growth. In the process, carbon is sequestered by the tree and oxygen is released as a byproduct.

Avoiding the use of paper and wood products will not ensure there are more trees standing to provide clean air. In fact, lack of demand for paper and wood products will more likely result in forests being turned into strip malls or developments for second homes.

We are committed to continuing our efforts to ensure the quality of the air we all breathe. And by keeping forests as forests, the forests can do their part to clean the air too.

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