World consumes 300 million tons of paper annually, all coming from the green forests straddling the world and about 30 million forest acres are lost per year for satisfying this ever increasing hunger for paper. Imagine 2-4 tons of trees are required to produce a ton of paper and 40% of the trees felled end up in the paper mills to make papers and boards to meet the needs from different sectors. Each ton of paper produced generates 20 kg of water borne waste, 75 kg of solid waste, requires 30000 liters of water and 25 million BTU energy besides emitting 100 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Per capita consumption of paper is generally proportional to the income levels of the population and higher the income more will be the consumption. While in USA the paper consumption is very high estimated at 350 kg per capita per year, in India and China combined with a population of more than 2.5 billion the corresponding figure is just 27 kg. Fortunately Indians do not come any where near the toppers in this category of 'performers' as an average citizen consumes hardly 6.4 kg of paper per year which is good considering that the forests are not denuded at least for making papers though the pull from the fuel sector is high especially by human settlements near the forests. What is alarming is that the paper consumption is expected to double from the present level of 7 million tons by the year 2015 demanding more and more clearance of the green cover, affecting the global weather adversely. World-wide the paper consumption increased six fold during the last 50 years. Is there any way mankind can save itself by stopping the indiscriminate felling of trees for paper?
Many alternate sources have been suggested from time to time to save trees and papers from kenaf, bamboo, hemp are all considered suitable but how far such alternatives will be practical remains to be seen. Recycling of used paper does provide some relief but the progressive reduction in the strength of recycled paper and limitations of quality achievable pose some problems in universal adoption of recycling. Depending on the country, extent of recycling may vary from nil in some countries to as high as 52% in the US.
If the claims by a Chicago company, the GPA, reputed for its paper products globally, are real, time is not too far away when treeless paper will emerge as a suitable and desirable alternative to the conventional paper. As the technology has been patented, there is real hope that there could be a way out of the dilemma world is facing vis-a-vis paper. The product touted as ultra green paper, denoting non-use of organic materials like pulp fibers, is made from lime powder and calcium carbonate as the main base and small quantities of non-toxic resins and HDPE are used as binding materials. The paper so made has same quality as conventional product in terms of printability and does not require any special inks for printing. Use of HDPE imparts the quality of plastics while the product does not age or weather with time, the yellowing phenomenon being a non-issue. The product is supposed to be resistant to sunlight, scuffing, water, grease and oils with no risk of decomposing, especially by microbial action. Added to this FDA is reported to have given clearance for its use in food contact applications making it a good packaging materials for a number of food products. Cost-wise it is expected o be 30-40% cheaper than conventional paper but one will know the truth only when commercial production starts and the product is in the market.
One critical issue is whether Mother Earth has so much lime deposits and enough Calcium carbonate can be generated to meet the demand from the paper sector when the possibility of treeless paper becomes a reality.