A report published by the World Watch Institute’s Vital Signs project, entitled Paper Production Levels Off, suggests that global paper consumption may have peaked. In 2011 it reached 400 million tonnes, but 2013 figures are slightly below that (397.6 million tonnes).
The top priorty for our network, and the first pillar of our Global Paper Vision is to reduce consumption and ensure fair access to paper. In rich countries we use far more than our fair share of this precious commodity. We want everyone on earth to access the benefits paper can bring to literacy, democracy and hygiene, without increasing overall production, but this is only possible if people reduce the amount of paper we use in Europe, North America and other high-consumption parts of the world.
There are now signs that paper use is dropping in some countries, largely as a result of a shift to digital, and even China’s rapid consumption growth seems to have stopped. This vindicates our insistence on the need for and feasibility of an end to growth of global paper consumption. We believe that more people benefiting from paper does not need to mean more paper being used overall.
An end to the growth in paper use is necessary, coupled with an increase in the content of recycled fibre and agricultural residues, in order to reduce pressure for wood. There is increased demand on forests for biomass energy and agricultural use, amongst other things, and it is dubious whether there is enough forest to go round without major cuts in consumption.
An end to growth in paper use shows that peaking consumption is possible. Is this ‘the end of more’? Let’s hope so!